– Washington hints at a military “Plan B” in Syria if ceasefire fails
– Syrian rebels demand US action ahead of peace talks
– Kurds attack Syrian air base held by insurgents
– Turkey summons US ambassador over Syrian Kurdish forces spat
– 500 dead in Syria regime’s Aleppo assault; airstrike hits MSF-supported hospital
– Turkish president fires back at UN over demand to open border

Washington hints at a military “Plan B” in Syria if ceasefire fails

US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the United States may resort to a “Plan B” and a new military initiative in Syria if there is a lack of progress in securing a ceasefire. “What we’re doing is testing [Russian and Iranian] seriousness,” he said. “And if they’re not serious, then there has to be consideration of a Plan B. . . You can’t just sit there.” Kerry said the aim, would be “to lead a coalition against ISIS, and also to support the opposition against Assad.” He said Obama has already directed the Pentagon and the intelligence community to move “harder and faster” against ISIS so that the group “is reined in and curbed and degraded and neutralized as fast as possible.” Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday Russia had proposed a “concrete” plan to resolve the Syria crisis to the United States. Secretary Kerry also made statements on Tuesday, urging Russia to help with an agreement on a ceasefire. “Russia’s activities from Aleppo and in the region are making it much more difficult to be able to come to the table and be able to have a serious conversation,” Kerry said. [Asharq al-Awsat, Washington Post, 2/10/2016]

Syrian rebels demand US action ahead of peace talks
Rebel groups urged US President Barack Obama to do more to stop Russian bombing raids in Syria as pressure mounted on Washington for greater commitment towards resolving the five-year-old war ahead of a new round of peace talks this week. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council will discuss the alarming humanitarian situation in Syria and the recent displacement of tens of thousands of people fleeing a Russian-backed assault around Aleppo, New Zealand’s UN envoy said Tuesday. The closed-door consultations scheduled for Wednesday and were jointly requested by New Zealand and Spain, backed by other Western powers. “There are reports of at least 30,000 people displaced from Aleppo and it’s the middle of winter,” New Zealand Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen said. [Reuters, 2/10/2016]

Kurds attack Syrian air base held by insurgents
Kurdish fighters backed by Russian airstrikes launched an attack in northern Syria on Wednesday in an attempt to capture a military air base held by Syrian insurgents, activists and a rebel commander said. Syria’s Kurds have been among the most effective forces battling ISIS, but have remained largely neutral in the conflict. The Kurds appear to be exploiting the chaos, of the Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes waging a major offensive between Aleppo and the Turkish border, to expand their nearby Afrin enclave. Maj. Yasser Abdul-Rahim, a rebel commander in the northern province of Aleppo, said that fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) are clashing with rebels near Mannagh air base. He accused the YPG of trying to take Arab villages near Afrin. “We are fighting on three fronts,” he said via Skype, referring to the YPG, Syrian troops, and ISIS. He warned that Mannagh air base could fall to Kurdish fighters because of the Russian air cover and the intensity of the attack. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said YPG fighters are trying to capture the former Syrian army air base, which fell to the opposition in August 2013. [AP, 2/10/2016]

Turkey summons US ambassador over Syrian Kurdish forces spat
Turkey has summoned the US ambassador to “convey unease” a day after the US State Department spokesman said that, unlike Turkey, Washington doesn’t recognize Syrian Kurdish forces as “terrorists.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced a visit by the US envoy to the coalition against ISIL, Brett McGurk, to Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, underlining the “mistrust” the visit created in Ankara over the nature of Turkey’s “partnership” with the United States. On Monday, State Department Spokesperson John Kirby said the US administration understands Turkey’s longstanding concerns over Syria’s Kurdish militias, but that it does not view them as a terrorist group and will continue supporting them in the fight against ISIS. The remarks prompted a harsh reaction in Ankara, who asked Washington to choose sides: either Turkey or the PYD. [AP, Reuters, Today’s Zaman, 2/10/2016]

500 dead in Syria regime’s Aleppo assault; airstrike hits MSF-supported hospital
More than 500 people, including dozens of civilians, have been killed since a major Russian-backed regime offensive in Syria’s Aleppo province began this month, a monitor said on Wednesday. The SOHR said the toll of 506 included 23 children killed in Russian air strikes on Aleppo city and its surroundings since the operation was launched on February 1. Tens of thousands of Syrians were still stranded Wednesday at the frontier north of the second city of Aleppo, which remained closed despite an appeal by the United Nations to let civilians pass. Meanwhile, an airstrike hit a hospital in southern Syria that is supported by Médecins Sans Frontières, killing three people and wounding six, the medical charity has said in a statement on Tuesday. “It caused partial damage to the hospital building, and put its heavily used ambulance service out of action. . . The hospital is the latest medical facility to be hit in a series of airstrikes in southern Syria, which have been escalating over the past two months.” [AFP, 2/10/2016]

Turkish president fires back at UN over demand to open border
Turkey’s president on Wednesday fired back at the United Nations for demanding that Turkey open its border to tens of thousands of more Syrian refugees, accusing the world body of being ineffective over the refugee crisis and of not shouldering the burden like Turkey. Already home to about 3 million refugees, Turkey has kept a key border crossing closed, prompting UNHCR on Tuesday to urge Turkey to admit “all civilians who are fleeing danger and seeking international protection as they have done since the start of this crisis.” President Erdogan responded to that demand by saying the UN had provided $455 million to Turkey compared to the $10 billion Turkey had spent on the refugees since 2011. On Wednesday, Suleyman Tapsiz, the governor for the border province of Kilis, said Turkey allowed in 12 Syrians who were seriously injured in Russian and Syrian bombings near the town of Tel Rifaat, in northern Syria. The governor denied accusations that Turkey had closed its borders to the refugees, insisting that the country had chosen to assist the new arrivals at the displaced peoples’ camps just across the border, but would let them in if the need arises later. [AP, Washington Post, 2/10/2016]