– Nearly 40,000 Syrians flee regime’s advance on Aleppo
– Kerry demands Russia halt Syria bombing after talks suspended
– Russian says strikes hit 875 ‘terrorist’ targets in Syria this month
Russia suspects Turkey prepares to enter Syria
– YPG says it has crossed Turkey’s “red-line” in Syria

Nearly 40,000 Syrians flee regime’s advance on Aleppo

A regime offensive near Aleppo continues from Monday with Russian air support, accompanied by Iran-backed Shiite militias and Hezbollah forces, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) on Thursday. The operation broke an opposition siege on two regime held towns. The main rebel supply route into the city has been severed and Turkey’s policy of bolstering rebels appears to have been defeated entirely. As a result, nearly 40,000 civilians fled the offensive. In London, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, also voiced concern at the huge numbers fleeing. “Now 10,000 new refugees are waiting in front of the door of Kilis because of air bombardment and attacks against Aleppo,” he said, referring to a Turkish town on the Syrian border. He added that “60 to 70,000 people in the camps in north Aleppo are moving towards Turkey.” Others have taken refuge in the west of the province, with the towns hosting them overwhelmed and some forced to sleep in the open. Thousands more have fled to the northern town of Azaz or were sleeping in nearby fields along the border with Turkey, which is currently closed. [AFP, AP, ReutersBusiness Insider, 2/4/2016]

Kerry demands Russia halt Syria bombing after talks suspended
Secretary of State John Kerry demanded Thursday that Russia stop bombing the Syrian opposition, implicitly blaming Moscow for the collapse in peace talks. Alongside Britain’s Foreign Minister Phillip Hammond, Kerry read out sections of UN Security Council resolution 2254, passed in December, calling for an immediate ceasefire. “Russia has a responsibility, as do all parties, to live up to it,” he said. “So I had a conversation this morning with Foreign Minister Lavrov. We discussed, and we agreed, that we need to discuss how to implement the ceasefire.” Russia said it regretted the suspension of Syria peace talks and expressed hope the negotiations could continue after the West accused Moscow of seeking a military solution to the war. He said that the Kremlin hoped that it would “soon” become clear when and how the talks would resume. Kerry also said that both parties to the conflict—the rebels as well as the regime and its allies—must allow access to besieged areas for humanitarian aid. [AFP, 2/4/2016]

Russian says strikes hit 875 ‘terrorist’ targets in Syria this month
On Thursday the defense ministry said Russia’s air force hit 875 “terrorist targets” in Syria this month, after peace talks on ending the brutal war broke down. Planes conducted 237 combat sorties, striking 875 “terrorist” targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Homs, Hama, and Deir al-Zor, the defense ministry said in a statement. A ministry spokeswoman said the strikes had taken place from Monday to Wednesday. Meanwhile a Russian military adviser was killed in Syria on Feb. 1 in a mortar attack, Russia’s defence ministry said on Wednesday. The Kremlin declined to name the Russian military trainer killed and said Russian servicemen were still not taking part in ground operations in Syria. Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov said, “We are talking about advisers. This is linked to teaching Syrian colleagues to operate equipment which is being delivered to Syria under existing contracts.” [AFP, 2/4/2016]

Russia suspects Turkey prepares to enter Syria
The Russian military says it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that Turkey is making intensive preparations for a military invasion of neighboring Syria. Defense Ministry Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday in a statement that the Russian military has registered “a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish armed forces for active actions on the territory of Syria.” He said images of a checkpoint on the Turkish-Syrian border taken in late October and late January show a buildup of transportation infrastructure that could be used for moving in troops, ammunition, and weapons. [AP, 2/4/2016]

YPG says it has crossed Turkey’s “red-line” in Syria
The Syrian People’s Protection Units (YPG) have announced that they have extended westward from the Euphrates River in their fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The spokesperson for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) Servan Derwes criticized repeated Turkish threats to crush the SDF-YPG forces were it to cross Turkey’s “red-line” in their fight against ISIS, which still occupies areas in a 60-mile wide strip of northwestern Syrian border territory west of the Euphrates, by pointing out that they are already west of that river. YPG Commander Simko on Monday described the Tishrin Dam the group seized from ISIS in December as the “gate to Afrin,” a reference to Syrian Kurdistan’s remaining unconnected westernmost canton. “By taking this dam, we have crossed west of the Euphrates and taken a historical step,” Simko added. [Rudaw, 2/3/2016]

Turkey bans Russian observation flight near Syria border
The Russian military says Turkey has violated an international treaty by barring a planned Russian surveillance flight. Defense Ministry official Sergei Ryzhkov says the Turkish military has refused to allow the mission intended to monitor the areas near Turkey’s border with Syria and air bases used by NATO warplanes. Ryzhkov accused Turkey of creating a “dangerous precedent of uncontrolled military activities” by breaching its obligations under the Open Skies Treaty. The agreement allows unarmed observation flights over the entire territory of its three dozen participants, which include the United States, Russia, and Turkey. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has dismissed accusations from the Russian Defense Ministry, saying, “An agreement could not be reached on the mission plan and the flight has thus not been conducted.” [AP, Reuters, Hurriyet , 2/3/2016]