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Executive Summary for February 12th

We review developments in Syria, including an initial agreement for the “cessation of hostilities” and immediate delivery of aid to civilians, the release of a report with a staggering new take on the death toll in Syria’s war and Saudi Arabia’s commitment to deploy troops to fight ISIS.

Published on Feb. 12, 2016 Read time Approx. 4 minutes

World Powers Agree to ‘Cessation of Hostilities’ in Syria

World powers agreed Friday to the “cessation of hostilities” in Syria in one week and to redouble efforts to deliver humanitarian aid to civilians across the country, but failed to secure a nationwide ceasefire or an end to Russian bombing.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced the deal in Munich shortly after a marathon meeting with top diplomats from more than a dozen countries, including Russia, to push forward a ceasefire deal and to resurrect peace talks that collapsed last week.

“First, we have agreed to accelerate and expand the delivery of humanitarian aid beginning immediately,” Kerry told reporters.

“Second, we have agreed to implement a nationwide cessation of hostilities to begin in a target of one week’s time. That’s ambitious, but everybody is determined to move as rapidly as possible to try to achieve this.”

Kerry was quick to acknowledge that the meeting produced commitments on paper only.

“What we need to see in the next few days are actions on the ground, in the field,” he said, adding that “without a political transition, it is not possible to achieve peace.”

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said that Moscow would not halt its air raids in Syria, saying the cessation of hostilities did not apply to the Islamic State group (ISIS) and the al-Nusra Front, the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.

Diplomats from the U.S. and the E.U. have said very few of Russia’s air raids have targeted Islamic extremist groups; instead, they have primarily targeted western-backed rebel groups seeking to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

“The Russians said they will continue bombing the terrorists. They are taking a political risk because they are accepting a negotiation in which they are committing to a cessation of hostilities. If in a week there is no change because of their bombing, then they will bear the responsibility,” a senior French diplomat told Reuters.

Death Toll From Syria’s War Now 470,000, Group Finds

The war in Syria, now five years old, has claimed 470,000 lives according to new research, nearly doubling previous estimates on the death toll of the conflict.

According to a new report released by the Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR), 11.5 percent of Syria’s population has been killed or injured since the crisis began in 2011, The Guardian reports.

The report puts the number of wounded in Syria at 1.9 million. The average life expectancy in the country has dropped by 15 years, from 70 in 2010 to 55.4 in 2014. Overall economic losses incurred due to the crisis are estimated to be $255 billion.

The staggering figure is nearly double the estimate of 250,000 used by the United Nations. But the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, the body responsible for managing conflict death tolls, stopped keeping track of Syria’s dead in mid 2014, saying it lacked access and had diminishing confidence in data sources.

“We use very rigorous research methods and we are sure of this figure,” said Rabie Nasser, the report’s author. “Indirect deaths will be greater in the future, though most NGOs and the U.N. ignore them.”

“We think that the U.N. documentation and informal estimation underestimated the casualties due to lack of access to information during the crisis,” he said.

Of the total of 470,000 dead counted by the SCPR, some 400,000 were directly due to violence, while the remaining 70,000 died due to a lack of adequate health services, medicine (in particular for people with chronic diseases), shortages of food and drinking water, lack of proper housing and sanitation – which especially affected people displaced within conflict zones.

Saudi Says Decision to Send Troops to Syria Is ‘Final’

A Saudi military spokesman said Thursday that Riyadh’s decision to send ground troops to Syria to aid in the war against ISIS is “final” and “irreversible.”

Brig. Gen. Ahmed al-Assiri said Saudi Arabia is ready to commit troops to fight with with the U.S.-led coalition in the war against ISIS in Syria, but said Washington was better suited to answer questions regarding further details about any future ground operations, according to the Saudi-owned news agency Al-Arabiya.

The U.S.-led coalition, which has primarily targeted the militants with airstrikes, has now yet given its final approval on Saudi’s decision to send in troops.

“The kingdom is ready to participate in any ground operations that the coalition (against ISIS) may agree to carry out in Syria,” Assiri said.

The Guardian reported that the Saudis may be prepared to send thousands of ground troops to Syria, but other experts, like Eurasia Group’s Ian Bremmer, were more skeptical over the role Saudi troops would play in the fighting.

“The Americans are pushing the Gulf states hard. But to be clear, if it happens at all, it’s going to be like support for bombing – essentially symbolic,” Bremmer said in an interview with Business Insider.

Recommended Reads

Top image: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, left, and U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, right, give a news conference after the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) meeting in Munich, Germany, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. (Associated Press)

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