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Executive Summary for February 19th

We review developments in Syria, including the growing tensions between Turkey and Syrian Kurds after a suicide bombing in Ankara, plus the United Nations’ plan to airdrop food aid into besieged areas across Syria, and Moscow’s warning to Assad after he vowed to retake the whole country.

Published on Feb. 19, 2016 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Turkey Blames YPG for Ankara Bombing

Turkey has blamed Wednesday’s car bomb attack on a military convoy in Ankara on a Syrian Kurdish militia fighter.

An explosive-packed car detonated next to military buses outside Turkey’s armed forces’ headquarters in the administrative heart of Ankara late Wednesday, killing 28 people.

Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), were behind the attack, warning of harsh repercussions.

Within hours of the attack, Turkish jets bombed northern Iraqi bases of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 30-year insurgency against the state, demanding Kurdish autonomy.

“Yesterday’s attack was directly targeting Turkey and the perpetrator is the YPG and the divisive terrorist organization PKK. All necessary measures will be taken against them,” Davutoglu said in televised speech on Thursday.

Turkish armed forces also shelled YPG positions in northern Syria on Thursday for the sixth day in a row. Davutoglu said the shelling would continue and those responsible for Wednesday’s bombing would “pay the price.”

The Democratic Union Party (PYD), the political wing of the YPG, denied involvement in the bombing, and a senior member of the PKK said he did not know who was responsible.

U.N. Set to Airdrop Food to Besieged Areas

The United Nations will begin airdropping food to tens of thousands of civilians over the next few days in a new effort to deliver aid to all of the country’s 18 besieged areas within a week.

The head of the U.N.’s humanitarian task force in Syria, Jan Egeland, said on Thursday that the U.N.’s World Food Program (WFP) had a “concrete plan” to airdrop food into Deir Ezzor, a city where 200,000 people are surrounded by ISIS militants and face severe food and medicine shortages. Residents have said up to 20 people in the city have died of starvation.

Russian cargo planes reportedly airdropped tens of tons of aid to Deir Ezzor’s government-held areas last month.

“We discussed the next phase, which is to reach all of the remaining besieged areas of Syria,” Egeland said shortly after a meeting with representatives of the 17-nation International Syria Support Group (ISSG), and one day after aid convoys reached five blockaded areas across the country.

“We should be able to do [so] before the next meeting, which will be in a week,” he said.

Moscow Warns Assad on Promise to Retake All of Syria

Russia cautioned Syrian president Bashar al-Assad on Friday over his promise to retake all of Syria, saying there would be severe consequences if he did not follow Moscow’s lead on the peace process, AFP reports.

“Russia has invested very seriously in this crisis, politically, diplomatically and now also militarily,” said Russia’s envoy to the U.N., Vitaly Churkin, referring to an agreement reached in Munich last week on a cessation of hostilities in Syria set to begin by the end of this week. “Therefore we would like Assad also to respond to this,” he said.

During last week’s ISSG meeting in Munich, the group agreed to a limited cease-fire, the immediate delivery of humanitarian aid and the resumption of peace talks.

In an interview with AFP shortly before last week’s Munich meeting, Assad defiantly vowed to retake the entire country.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Friday that President Vladimir Putin backed the Syrian peace process but stressed that a cease-fire had not yet been implemented.

“Everyone including President Putin recognizes that there is no alternative other than a political resolution,” he said, adding that a cease-fire “is now being worked out, discussed.”

Churkin warned Assad that if he refuses to follow Moscow’s lead in Syria, “a very difficult situation could arise.”

“If they proceed on the basis that no cease-fire is necessary and they need to fight to a victorious end, then this conflict will last a very long time and that is terrifying to imagine.”

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Top image: Turkish soldiers carry the national flag-draped coffin of Sergeant First Class Feyyaz Ilhan, killed in Ankara’s explosion Wednesday, during his funeral in Bursa, northern Turkey, Thursday, Feb. 18, 2016. Turkey blamed Kurdish militant groups at home and in neighboring Syria for the deadly suicide bombing in Ankara and vowed strong retaliation for the attack, a development that threatens to further complicate the Syria conflict. (Associated Press)

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