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Executive Summary for February 20th

To give you an overview of the latest news, we’ve organized the latest Syrian developments in a curated summary.

Published on Feb. 20, 2015 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

The U.S. and Turkey Sign Deal to Train, Equip Syrian Rebels

The U.S. and Turkey signed an agreement Thursday to train and equip thousands of moderate Syrian rebels after several weeks of talks, the AP reports.

Turkey and the U.S. signed a document a short time ago on the train-and-equip [programme],”Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

The deal was made by U.S. Ambassador John Bass and Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu. Sinirlioglu called the deal “an important step” in the strategic partnership between Turkey and the U.S.

According to the Turkish government, the training by U.S. and Turkish soldiers could commence as early as next month in the Turkish city of Kirsehir.

The U.S. has said the primary goal is to battle the Islamic State, but Turkey, a vocal critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, wants the trained rebels to battle both the regime in Damascus as well as the Islamic State.

Turkey’s reluctance to take more robust action against the militant groups has put a strain on the U.S., which has pressured Turkey in the past for the use of its Incirlik air base in southern Turkey to facilitate U.S. airstrikes on the militant group.

Turkey laid out several conditions for playing a larger role in the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS, including the creation of a no-fly zone and training of moderate Syrian rebels, with an ultimate goal of defeating the Assad regime.

“It is not clear who will decide which rebels will receive the training. U.S. and Turkish officials have not always been in agreement about which of the disparate rebel groups in Syria should be considered moderate,” AP writes.

The U.S. has thus far screened around 1,200 potential Syrian opposition fighters to participate in the training in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar to battle the Islamic State, according to the Pentagon.

The program will train more than 5,000 fighters a year, and a total of 15,000 over a three-year period, after they undergo vetting for the program using both U.S government databases as well as intelligence from regional partners.

The U.S. is hopeful that the program will be operational by late March, so that the trained rebels can be in operation by the end of the year.

Syrian Kurdish Figthers, Rebel Forces, Advance into ISIS Stronghold Raqqa

Syrian Kurdish fighters and rebel forces, backed by U.S.-led airstrikes, advanced on Thursday into Raqqa, where ISIS has its de facto capital, capturing 19 villages from the militant group, the BBC reports.

“The US-led international coalition played a key role in the advance, bombing the IS positions and forcing its fighters to withdraw,” said the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdel Rahman.

The advances come as the Kurdish and rebel forces push outwards from the border town of Kobani from which the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG), backed by U.S.-led strikes, successfully ousted the Islamic State from Kobani last month.

They have seized about 242 surrounding villages from the militant group since then, including the 19 in Raqqa province.

“They are now believed to be only 25km [15 miles] from Tal Abyad. The strategically important border town, about 65km east of Kobani, is used by IS militants to cross into Turkey,” the BBC writes.

Rebels in Syria Capture Dozens of Soldiers Near Aleppo

“Rebels in Syria have captured 32 soldiers and pro-government gunmen near the northern city of Aleppo, where fighting is raging as the two sides try to grab new territory ahead of a possible truce,” AP reports.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims “the troops were seized in the village of Ratyan after it was retaken by the rebels on Wednesday.”

The fighting comes as U.N. Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura said Wednesday that Syria was prepared to suspend its aerial bombardment of Aleppo for a period of six weeks as part of a trial cease-fire.

De Mistura has been working since October to advance a proposal for local cease-fire, or “incremental freeze zones” across Syria, starting with the city of Aleppo, in an attempt to halt the fighting and provide humanitarian aid to civilians.

The Guardian reported yesterday that the advance of Syrian government troops, who claim they have surrounded rebels in Aleppo, was “at odds with the U.N. mediator’s assertion that Damascus is ready to declare a local six-week cease-fire.”

More than 100 soldiers and rebels were killed on Tuesday as government forces captured several areas of countryside north of Aleppo as they tried to cut a crucial rebel supply route inside the city.

“On Thursday, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders (MSF) urged all parties to facilitate the evacuation of people wounded in the clashes, which it said had triggered a new wave of displaced families trying to reach the Turkish border to seek shelter,” AP writes.

“Our paramount concern is that the clashes block the only road open between Aleppo and the northern border with Turkey, making it almost impossible to run ambulance services and provide medical and humanitarian assistance to the people trapped by war in eastern Aleppo,” said Raquel Ayora, MSF director of operations.

The advance on Aleppo is the second major offensive by pro-government forces in a week. Government forces backed by Lebanon’s Hezbollah group also launched a major assault in southern Syria against rebels and insurgents.

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Photo Courtesy of AP Images

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