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Executive Summary for May 31st

We review the latest developments in Syria, including the deaths of 23 civilians in Russian airstrikes on Idlib, Kurdish advances on areas near the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa, and a Turkish proposal to join forces with the U.S.

Published on May 31, 2016 Read time Approx. 2 minutes

Airstrikes Kill 23 Civilians in Idlib Province

Russian airstrikes on a hospital and government shelling of civilian areas in Idlib province killed at least 23 civilians, including seven women and children, according to the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

On Monday evening, Russian forces carried out at least 10 airstrikes in Idlib province, killing 23 civilians, and targeting the national hospital and other areas, it said. “The airstrikes are the most intensive on Idlib since the beginning of the truce,” said Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Observatory. “Even though Idlib is not covered by the truce, it had been relatively calm with only intermittent raids.”

In retaliation, Jaish al-Fatah (Army of Conquest) rebels fired mortar shells at the regime-controlled towns of Fouaa and Kafria in northern Idlib, the Observatory reported.

Russia has denied responsibility for the attacks. “Russian planes did not carry out any combat missions, to say nothing of any air strikes, in the province of Idlib,” said Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman.

Kurdish Forces Widen Offensive Near Raqqa

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a U.S.-trained alliance of Kurdish militias, expanded its offensive against the so-called Islamic State in areas near the extremist group’s self-declared capital of Raqqa on Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the offensive, which was launched last week with the aim of eventually recapturing Raqqa from ISIS, is targeting an airbase used by ISIS west of the city, Reuters reported.

The SDF has seized 11 towns and villages from ISIS in rural Raqqa since the beginning of its offensive. The al-Tabqa area, along with its air base, is located some 40 miles (60km) to the west of Raqqa, and was captured by ISIS from regime forces in 2014.

The importance of al-Tabqa lies in the fact that it links Raqqa with other ISIS-controlled areas near Aleppo. But the Observatory said retaking the area would not be easy, as the militant group has a large stock of weapons seized from government forces when it captured the area.

Turkey Invites U.S. to Join Forces, Without Kurds

Turkey has proposed it joins forces with the U.S. for a special operation to combat ISIS, on the condition the operation excludes the Kurdish YPG group, which Ankara considers a terrorist body.

Ankara has expressed disapproval of Washington’s alliance with Kurdish fighters, specifically the YPG, the military wing of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). “If we join forces, they (the U.S.) have their own special forces and we have our special forces,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told journalists in Antalya, Agence France-Press reported.

He added that such an operation could reach Raqqa, and proposed backing Syrian opposition forces fighting against the Assad regime. The U.S. government has not reacted to the proposal.

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