Syrian troops make gains in southern offensive
– Senior Iranian commander killed in Syria
– Turkey accuses Russia of spreading propaganda

Syrian troops make gains in southern offensive
The Syrian Army and allied militias on Friday made advances when they retook a town at the doorstep of the southern provincial capital of Deraa, a contested city in the south that lies between Damascus and the Jordan border. Several supply routes go through Deraa, which is divided between government and opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, and was the scene of some of the first protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011. Syria’s official news agency says the offensive on Atman, north of Deraa, scattered rebel forces—which it labels terrorists. Troops advanced under the cover of heavy artillery bombardment and air power, SOHR reports. [AP, Al Arabiya, 2/5/2016]

Senior Iranian commander killed in Syria
A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander has been killed in Syria in an incident that sheds light on Tehran’s role in bolstering President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Iranian forces confirmed on Friday that Hossein Hamedani, described as an elite and exceptional commander and a defender of the Shia holy sites in Damascus, was killed in the vicinity of Aleppo on Thursday evening. He was the most senior Iranian military officer on a foreign operation to be killed in 36 years since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Tasnim, an Iranian news agency affiliated to the guards, said Hamedani was operating in “an advisory capacity” when “takfiri terrorists” killed him—in reference to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)—but it did not disclose the exact details surrounding his death. [AP, AFP, Guardian, VOA, 2/5/2016]

Turkey accuses Russia of spreading propaganda
On Thursday, Russia said it suspected Turkey was preparing a military incursion into Syria. Turkey in turn accused Moscow of trying to divert attention from its own actions in Syria and said Aleppo was threatened with a “siege of starvation.” A senior Turkish government official on Friday said Turkey is not planning a military incursion into Syria and Russian talk of such action is propaganda. “Turkey does not have any plans or thoughts of staging a military campaign or ground incursion in Syria,” the official said, adding Russia was stepping up its own military campaign in Syria every day instead of working toward a solution. “Turkey is part of a coalition, is working with its allies, and will continue to do so. As we have repeatedly said, Turkey will not act unilaterally,” the official said. Meanwhile, NATO head Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that Russia’s air strikes in Syria targeting rebel forces are “undermining” efforts to find a nonmilitary solution to the war. [Reuters, AFP, 2/5/2016]

Over 10,000 Syrians mass on Turkish border as regime advances
Thousands of Syrians were stuck on the Turkish border Friday after fleeing a major regime offensive backed by Russia near Aleppo where a new humanitarian disaster appeared to be unfolding. Tens of thousands of civilians are reported to have joined the exodus after fierce fighting by advancing government forces who severed the rebels’ main supply route into Syria’s second city. Turkey has said about 10,000 Syrians have amassed on the Syrian side of the Turkish border and that about 70,000 more were on their way. SOHR estimates that 40,000 people have fled the regime offensive near Aleppo. “Thousands of people, mainly families with women and children, are waiting to enter Turkey,” said SOHR Director Rami Abdel Rahman.[AFP, 2/5/2016]