Syrian rebels lose ground as Kurds begin talks with Russia
As Syria rebels face rout, allies, Saudi, Turkey may send troops
UN probe accuses Damascus of ‘extermination’ of detainees

Syrian rebels lose ground as Kurds begin diplomatic talks with Russia

Syrian rebels have withdrawn from three villages threatened by Russian strikes in the northern province of Aleppo that borders Turkey, allowing Kurdish fighters to overrun them, a monitor said Monday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the rebels abandoned the villages of Aqlamiyah, Deir Jamal, and Mareanar on Sunday at the insistence of residents who feared their homes would be bombed. That enabled the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) to move in to seize the three villages, in another setback for the rebels only days after they lost three nearby towns to the Kurds. Syrian troops also recaptured a new village north of Aleppo within a few kilometers of the Turkish border as part of a major Russian-backed offensive in the area. State-run news agency SANA said army troops took control of the village of Kfeen in the northern countryside of Aleppo “after wiping out the last group of terrorists there.” Syrian Kurdish separatists have announced plans to open “representation” offices in several capitals, starting next week with Damascus regime ally Moscow, an official said on Saturday. “The autonomous Syrian Kurdish region will open an office in Moscow on February 10 and is preparing to open another in Berlin, with Washington, Paris and Arab countries coming later,” said Deputy Head of the Hasaka Committee for External Relations Amina Oussi. [AFP, 2/8/2016]

As Syria rebels face rout, allies, Saudi, Turkey may send troops
With rebel forces facing the prospect of a crushing defeat by Syria’s Russian-backed regime, their allies Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, and Turkey may send in limited numbers of ground troops, analysts say. Riyadh on Thursday left open the possibility of deploying soldiers, saying it would “contribute positively” if the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) decides on ground action. Andreas Krieg of the Department of Defense Studies at King’s College London said the “moderate” opposition is in danger of being routed if Aleppo falls to the regime. Russia meanwhile has accused Turkey of “preparations for an armed invasion” of Syria. Iran’s chief of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday, Saudi Arabia would not dare send ground troops to war-torn Syria. Major General Ali Jafari, commander of the Guards, said such a move would amount to suicide for Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, Syria will resist any ground incursion into its territory and send the aggressors home “in coffins,” its Syria’s foreign minister said on Saturday, stating any foreign army soldiers who enter Syria without government consent would amount to an aggression that must be resisted whether they were Saudis or Turks. Additionally, Chechen forces have been helping Russia with intelligence on the ground regarding ISIS. [AFP, 2/8/2016]

UN probe accuses Damascus of ‘extermination’ of detainees
Detainees held by the Syrian government are dying on a massive scale amounting to a state policy of “extermination” of the civilian population, a crime against humanity, UN investigators said on Monday. UN investigators accused Damascus of “extermination” in its jails and detention centers, saying prisoners were executed, tortured to death, or held in such horrific conditions that they perished. The UN commission of inquiry called on the UN Security Council to impose “targeted sanctions” on Syrian officials in the civilian and military hierarchy responsible for or complicit in deaths, torture and disappearances in custody, but stopped short of naming them. In their report, the independent experts said they had also documented mass executions and torture of prisoners by two jihadi groups, Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS, constituting war crimes. The report, “Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention,” covers March 10, 2011 to November 30, 2015. [AFP, Reuters, 2/8/2016]

De Mistura wants to see willingness to reach Syria peace deal
UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura said Friday he was looking for confirmation that key international players were willing to push ahead with peace talks after he suspended the latest attempt at negotiations in Geneva. In an interview with the Italian daily La Republica, de Mistura said he would meet next week in Munich with the countries that are part of an international group seeking a solution, in particular the US, Russia, and Iran. “We will looking for confirmation at the defense conference in Munich on February 12,” he told the paper. Facing Western criticism over the halt to Syria peace talks, Russia said Friday it plans to present new ideas on how to restart peace efforts at a meeting of nearly 20 key nations on February 11. Russia on Friday curtly rejected Western accusations that it had sabotaged Syria peace talks in Geneva, and said it had some “new ideas” on how to move the stalled negotiations forward. [AFP, 2/8/2016]

Turkey, Germany to carry joint diplomatic efforts to end Aleppo onslaught
German Chancellor Angela Merkel traveled to Ankara Monday for talks on how to reduce the influx of migrants into Europe. Speaking in a joint press conference with the chancellor, Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu said that it is unreasonable for the world to expect Turkey to shoulder the refugee burden on its own, while he thanked Merkel for her efforts regarding the matter. He noted that at least 30,000 refugees fleeing the Russian-backed airstrikes on Aleppo are waiting at the Turkish border, stating this new inflow could reach 1 million. Merkel expressed that she is “not just appalled but horrified” by the suffering caused by Russian bombing in Syria and noted that Turkey and Germany are on the same page regarding humanitarian assistance for refugees. The leaders announced that an agreement had been reached on a set of measures to deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, including a joint diplomatic initiative aiming to halt attacks against Syria’s largest city. [AP, Bloomberg, Today’s Zaman, 2/8/2016]

Erdogan to United States: Choose either Turkey or the PYD as your partner
Turkey’s president lashed out at the United States a week after President Barack Obama’s envoy visited a northern Syrian town that is under the control of Syrian Kurdish forces. The statement came after envoy Brett McGurk’s visit to Kobani, where the military wing of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), aided by US-led airstrikes, drove back ISIS a year ago. Turkey considers the PYD a terrorist group because of its affiliation with Turkey’s outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In comments published Sunday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Washington should choose between Turkey and the PYD as its partner. Erdogan said, “How can we trust you? Is it me that is your partner or is it the terrorists in Kobani?” While speaking at a joint press conference with his Senegalese counterpart during a brief stopover in the West African country on Friday, Erdogan also dismissed a Russian statement that Turkey was preparing for an incursion in Syria, saying he is “laughing” at the claim. [AP, Today’s Zaman, 2/7/2016]