– UN Security Council aims to endorse halt in Syria fighting
– Putin says groups in Syria ready to comply with ceasefire; Russian air strikes intensify
– Bombs hit Syrian hospitals, medical workers fear they are target 
– Rights groups slam ‘shameful’ Russia deportation of Syrian refugees
– United States sensitive to Turkey’s YPG concerns, but wants more information
– Turkey has ‘serious worries’ about Syrian ceasefire

UN Security Council aims to endorse halt in Syria fighting

Russia and the United States circulated to the UN Security Council on Thursday a draft resolution endorsing the planned halt in fighting in Syria and council diplomats said they hoped to adopt it as soon as possible. The “cessation of hostilities” agreed to by the United States and Russia is due to take hold on Saturday morning from midnight. But opponents of President Bashar al-Assad say they expect the government to press on with its advance, by branding opposition fighters al Qaeda militants unprotected by the truce. The joint draft resolution, which diplomats say the 15-nation council plans to put to a vote on Friday afternoon, would endorse the halt in fighting and demand that it begin as planned at midnight local time on Saturday morning. [Reuters, AFP, 2/26/2016]

Putin says groups in Syria ready to comply with ceasefire; Russian air strikes intensify
All parties expected to take part in a cessation of hostilities in Syria have said they are ready to do so, President Vladimir Putin said on Friday, warning the peace process would be difficult nonetheless at a meeting with the FSB security service in Moscow. Under the terms of the ceasefire, the Syrian government and its allies will be permitted to continue strikes against ISIS and al-Qaeda-linked group, the Nusra Front. On his part, US President Barack Obama said on Thursday the United States would do everything it could to make a ceasefire in Syria succeed in order to reduce violence, get food and aid to Syrians who are suffering and lead to negotiations to end the civil war. Despite support from all sides for the ceasefire, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has reported heavy Russian air strikes on the suburbs of Damascus and in Aleppo hours before it is to go into effect. Putin has denied strikes against rebel-held areas, saying that the Russian warplanes were targeting “terrorist organizations.” [Reuters, AFP, AP, BBC, 2/26/2016]

Bombs hit Syrian hospitals, medical workers fear they are target
The hospital in the northern Syrian town of Maarat al-Noaman was not just grazed, or damaged, by the air strikes last week. It was destroyed, taking a direct hit that pancaked its three stories into one, entombing and killing 25 people, including nine staff members. It was struck twice just as day-shift workers and patients were arriving. As rescuers swarmed, another two explosions struck. That same morning, two more air strikes hit the National Hospital on the other side of town, which was treating nurses injured in the attack on the first facility. This detailed account, provided by the director of the hospital and corroborated by Doctors Without Borders (MSF), is one example of why many Syrian medical workers in insurgent-held areas and human rights groups believe medical facilities are not just being hit by stray bombs or indiscriminate attacks, but have long been deliberately targeted by the Syrian government and its Russian allies. In 2016, there have already been 17 attacks on health facilities, including six assisted by MSF. [NYT, 2/26/2016]

Rights groups slam ‘shameful’ Russia deportation of Syrian refugees
Russia was set to deport three Syrian refugees on Thursday back to Damascus from a Moscow airport, rights activists said, in a move condemned as “shameful” by Amnesty International. “One has just called… they are being held under guard, under police escort,” head of the migrant rights group The Civic Assistance Committee. The three men could face deportation this evening on a flight back to Damascus from Moscow’s Vnukovo airport, she added. Mikhail Fedotov, the head of the Kremlin’s human rights council, was “trying to help” after she appealed to him over the case. Amnesty International in a statement condemned “Russia’s shameful approach to people in need of international protection.” [AFP, 2/25/2016]

United States sensitive to Turkey’s YPG concerns, but wants more information
The United States is “very sensitive” to Turkey’s concerns regarding the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the military arm of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), said Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday. Kerry told lawmakers the United States had discussed with Turkey its dispute about the YPG in northern Syria. He said, “We have very strong concerns about PYD actions in northwest Syria … And of course we are very concerned about potential YPG military support from Syria to PKK elements operating in Turkey. When that is raised with me, I continue to ask for the details of the incidents in which Turkish government says it has stopped it from happening. I continue to ask for those details so that if those incidents are happening, then we can try to undertake efforts to address them or to reevaluate the very limited cooperation we have so far with the groups fighting [ISIS].” [Hurriyet, 2/26/2016]

Turkey has ‘serious worries’ about Syrian ceasefire
Turkey has serious worries about the Syrian ceasefire deal due to ongoing fighting, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s aide and spokesman said on Friday, hours before the US-Russian deal was due to start. Speaking at a news conference at the presidential palace, İbrahim Kalın also said that while Turkey had no plans for a unilateral ground operation in Syria, it will respond to any incidents threatening its national security in line with its rules of engagement. Kalın said that the migrant crisis will continue if Syrian regime attacks and air strikes do not stop. “We would like to make it clear [to] those countries who tell [us] ‘open your doors to the Syrian refugees’ or ‘prevent refugee influx [to Europe]; there should be no doubt that migrant crisis will deepen further unless the air strikes and the attacks by Assad regime are stopped,” he said. [Reuters, AFP, Hurriyet, Today’s Zaman, 2/26/2016]