Syrian Archbishop Jacques Behnan Hindo lashed out at the United States over its support to rebels in Syria fighting the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, claiming that the rebels were Al Qaeda under a different name. 

The Syrian Catholic leader's statement comes in the context of US criticism against Russia for carrying out airstrikes in Syria, which the US claims is targeting rebels that the CIA has armed and trained. 

"US Senator John McCain protested saying that the Russians are not bombing the positions of the Islamic State, but rather the anti-Assad rebels trained by the CIA. I find these words are disturbing. They represent a blatant admission that behind the war against Assad there is also the CIA," Archbishop Hindo told the Fides news agency, which is part of the Vatican media.

The Syrian archbishop hit out at the US' claims that it was backing 'moderate rebels', who he said 'do not exist'.

He asked: "There is a superpower that protests because the Russians hit the militias of al-Qaeda in Syria. What does it mean? Al-Qaeda is now a US ally, just because in Syria it has a different name?" 

The archbishop also went on to say that if Assad was overthrown in the present circumstances, Syria would 'become like Libya'. 

"The Syrians will decide if and when Assad has to go away, and not the Daesh or the West. And it is certain that if Assad goes away now, Syria will become like Libya," Archbishop Hindo said. 

The United States has repeatedly maintained that it wants Assad out, while Russia has stood by the Syrian President. 

Russia began airstrikes in Syria on 30 September after the country's parliament gave the green signal to President Vladimir Putin. Russia claimed the airstrikes were on the request of the Syrian President and were targeting Isis strongholds in the country.