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Executive Summary for February 5th

We review the key developments in Syria, including heavy Russian airstrikes, government advances and a mass exodus of civilians from Aleppo, Saudi Arabia’s announcement that it is willing to send ground troops to fight ISIS and a pledge by world powers of nearly $11 billion in aid to Syria.

Published on Feb. 5, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Russian Airstrikes and Government Advances Cause Mass Exodus from Aleppo

Pro-government forces supported by heavy Russian airstrikes advanced in Aleppo, nearly surrounding the rebel-held areas of Syria’s northernmost city, and displacing thousands of civilians.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a donor conference in London on Thursday that intensive Russian bombing in Syria’s north has forced up to 70,000 people to flee the area in an attempt to escape a potential government-imposed “siege of starvation,” the Guardian reports.

“Sixty to seventy thousand people in the camps in north Aleppo are moving towards Turkey,” said Davutoglu. “Three hundred thousand people living in Aleppo are ready to move towards Turkey.”

After causing the collapse in peace talks in Geneva earlier this week, increased Russian airstrikes in northern Syria facilitated the advance of pro-government forces led by the Lebanese Hezbollah movement and Shia militias to the gateway of the rebel-held east of Aleppo city.

Rebel groups, including the al-Qaida-linked al-Nusra Front, have controlled Aleppo’s eastern half since the summer of 2012. A government take-over of the city would be devastating blow to groups fighting to depose President Bashar al-Assad.

“They have not stopped bombing,” an anonymous rebel leader in the town of Hreitan told the Guardian. “All the hospitals have been destroyed. We have around seven attacks an hour every day for a week. There were more than 120 on Tuesday alone.”

Key government advances over the past month have made it clear that Russia’s military intervention has not only served to stabilize Bashar al-Assad’s position, but has enabled his government to advance and allowed for a better position at the negotiating table, the New York Times reports.

While loyalist forces had yet to encircle the city entirely and to cut off rebel supply lines Thursday, heavy airstrikes had cut off a key humanitarian route used to transport aid into the city.

“We are cut off from Aleppo city,” said Mercy Corps program director for the Middle East David Evans. “It feels like a siege of Aleppo is about to begin.”

Riyadh Willing to Send Troops to Fight ISIS

Saudi Arabia has offered for the first time to send groups to Syria to battle the so-called Islamic State.

“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against ISIS) may agree to carry out in Syria,” military spokesman brigadier general Ahmed al-Asiri said on Thursday.

Saudi sources reportedly told the Guardian that thousands of Saudi special forces could be deployed, most likely in coordination with Turkey.

Saudi Arabia and Turkey, both major supporters of the Syrian opposition, set up a military coordination body several weeks ago.

“There is frustration with the current efforts put in place to fight Daesh,” said Saudi political analyst Mohammed Alyahya, using an Arabic acronym to refer to the extremist group.

“Increasingly, it seems that none of the forces on the ground in Syria (besides rebel groups) is willing to fight ISIS. The Assad regime, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah are preoccupied with fighting Bashar al-Assad’s opposition with one ostensible goal: to keep Bashar al-Assad in power, irrespective of the cost in innocent Syrian lives.”

World Powers Pledge Nearly $11 Billion In Aid For Syria

World leaders and diplomats gathered at a one-day donor conference in London on Thursday pledged nearly $11 billion to help victims of the crisis in Syria.

“Never has the international community raised so much money on a single day for a single crisis,” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said.

The conference exceeded its target goal of $9 billion, with noteworthy contributions coming from the European Union ($3.3 billion for 2016), the U.S. ($925 million for 2016) and France ($1 billion for 2016), the BBC reports.

The conference, attended by 30 world leaders, hoped to make up for the underfunding of previous appeals. For example, only 43 percent of the $2.9 billion pledged to the U.N.’s 2015 appeal has been funded thus far.

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Top image: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, right, and British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond are watched by the media as they shake hands on the sidelines of a Syria donors conference in central London on Thursday Feb. 4, 2016. Leaders and diplomats from some 70 countries are meeting in London Thursday to pledge billions of dollars to help millions of Syrian people displaced by war, and try to slow the chaotic exodus of refugees into Europe.(Nicholas Kamm/Pool via AP)

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