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Executive Summary for February 8th

We review developments in Syria, including the arrival of tens of thousands of civilians at the Turkish border after fleeing government advances in Aleppo, the tightening of sieges on two Damascus suburbs and a warning from Damascus and Tehran against a Saudi proposal to send troops into Syria.

Published on Feb. 8, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

Turkey Supplies Cross-Border Aid as Civilians Flee to Borders

An escalating offensive by pro-government forces on Aleppo, supported by heavy Russian airstrikes, pushed tens of thousands of residents to flee toward the Turkish border over the weekend.

Turkish aid trucks and ambulances entered Syria on Sunday to provide assistance to the thousands of civilians gathered along the Turkish border, as Russian and Syrian government airstrikes targeted villages along the vital supply road linking Syria’s northernmost city to the Turkish border.

Nearly 350,000 people still live in the rebel-held areas in and around the city of Aleppo, but aid workers have said these areas could soon fall under government control as loyalist militias and the Syrian army close in around the city, Reuters reports.

According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, airstrikes from what residents believe were Russian planes pounded villages north of Aleppo on Sunday, including Bashkoy, Haritan and Anadan.

Turkey has long provided refuge for Syrians fleeing the war in Syria, and is now sheltering some 2.5 million Syrians. But Ankara has come under pressure from the United States as of late to secure its border better. Europe is pressuring Ankara to halt the steady flow of refugees.

At the Oncupinar border gate, which has been closed for nearly a year, some 35,000 new arrivals were directed to newly established shelters along the Syrian side of the border, where Turkish officials have said they will be safe for now.

“We’re extending our efforts inside Syria to supply shelter, food and medical assistance to people,” said an official from the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation. “We are already setting up another camp. At the moment all our preparations are to make sure these people are comfortable on the Syrian side of the border.”

Government Tightens Siege on Daraya and Mouadamiya

Pro-government forces tightened a three-year siege on rebel-held areas southwest of Damascus over the weekend, capturing a supply route between two adjacent towns, Reuters reports.

Forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad captured a strip of land on Friday linking the suburbs of Daraya and Mouadamiya for which they have been fighting since December.

The Syrian government is keen on pushing rebel forces out of Daraya because of its location alongside a Syrian military airport from which Russian warplanes have been conducting air raids since late September.

“The Islamist groups which control Daraya have been launching rockets into the military airport zone,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Rebel groups fear that government forces will try to attack each suburb separately now that they are both completely under siege.

The Red Cross said on Sunday it had delivered food and hygiene kits for about 3,500 people in Mouadamiya and was planning to send more aid in the coming days.

There are some 6,000 people living in Daraya and about 45,000 in Mouadamiya.

Both areas are now completely besieged, with “no food, no water, no electricity, no medicine,” said Abu Gaith al-Shami, a spokesman for the rebel coalition called the Southern Front.

Syria and Iran Warn Foreign Troops Will Be Sent Home ‘in Wooden Coffins’

Syrian and Iranian officials on Saturday warned Saudi Arabia to abandon the idea of sending troops to Syria to support retreating rebel forces in Aleppo facing a potentially devastating loss.

Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem said at a news conference in Damascus over the weekend that any foreign forces intervening in Syria would be sent home in coffins, the Associated Press reports.

“Those who launch an aggression against Syria will return in wooden boxes, be they Saudis or Turks or anyone,” he said.

As pro-government forces close in around the rebel-held areas of Aleppo, speculation has risen that Saudi Arabia and Turkey – both major supporters of Syrian rebel forces – might increase aid or send in forces of their own in the hope of stemming further rebel losses.

On Thursday of last week, Riyadh announced it would consider dispatching ground troops to Syria to buttress the steadily faltering opposition forces, a proposal warmly welcomed by the U.S. government.

In Tehran, the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard similarly warned Saudi Arabia against further involving itself in Syria.

“If Saudi Arabia sends forces to Syria, that will be the end of Saudi Arabia,” said Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari. “That of course will not be bad.”

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Top Image: Syrians walk toward the Turkish border at the Bab al-Salam border gate, Syria, on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016. Turkish officials say thousands of Syrians have massed on the Syrian side of the border seeking refuge in Turkey. Officials at the government’s crisis management agency said Friday it was not clear when Turkey would open the border to allow the group in and start processing them. The refugees, who fled bombing in Aleppo, were waiting at the Bab al-Salam crossing, opposite the Turkish province of Kilis. (Depo Photos via AP)

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