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Executive Summary for February 13th

We review the key developments in Syria, including reports that Russian fighters were among those killed by coalition airstrikes, the U.N. saying current violence is the worst the conflict has ever seen, and Turkey accusing the U.S. of stalling the fight against ISIS.

Published on Feb. 13, 2018 Read time Approx. 3 minutes

Russians Among Those Killed by Coalition in Deir Ezzor

A number of Russian fighters were reportedly killed by coalition airstrikes and artillery attacks on pro-government forces in Deir Ezzor last week, Agence France-Presse reported Monday.

The U.S.-led coalition said it thwarted an “unprovoked attack” by pro-government fighters on a Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) headquarters in Deir Ezzor province after midnight Wednesday. A U.S. official said at least 100 pro-government fighters were killed by coalition defenses.

Washington at the time said it was not ruling out the possibility that Russian contractors could have been among the attacking force. Moscow’s defense ministry issued a statement denying the involvement of any Russian service members.

However, reports have surfaced alleging that at least five Russian men fighting informally with pro-government forces were killed in last week’s clashes.

Vladimir Loginov, a 52-year-old Cossack from Russia’s western Kaliningrad exclave “died in an unequal battle in the area of Syria’s Deir Ezzor,” the Baltic Cossack Union in Kaliningrad said in a statement, according to AFP.

“Another Russian, Kirill Ananyev, was also killed in Syria on February 7, the nationalist Other Russia organization said on its VK social networking page,” AFP reported. The Other Russia group said Ananyev was killed in battles near the Syrian town Khasham, where the U.S. coalition carried out its strikes.

The Conflict Intelligence Team, an organization that monitors social networks for information about Russians in Syria, said at least three other Russians also died on February 7 in Deir Ezzor, AFP reported.

Maksim Buga, a leader of the Cossack community in Kaliningrad, told AFP that “our Cossacks are there [in Syria] as part of a volunteer group.” He clarified that these men were probably paid for their volunteer involvement, but he did not explain who was paying them.

He told Reuters that “dozens” of other Russian fighters were also killed in the coalition attack.

Airstrikes Pound Ghouta as U.N. Condemns ‘Worst’ Fighting of the Conflict

At least 15 civilians, including three children, have been killed by Syrian and Russian airstrikes on the Eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus since Saturday, Reuters reported on Monday, citing a war monitor.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said another 85 people were injured by airstrikes and artillery attacks on the besieged rebel enclave east of the capital over that same period, Reuters said.

Escalated attacks on Eastern Ghouta coincide with a surge in violence in other parts of the country, including the opposition stronghold of Idlib and the Kurdish enclave of Afrin.

Stepped-up attacks have led to “hundreds of civilian deaths and injuries, massive displacement and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including medical facilities,” the United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator in Syria Ali al-Za’tari said on Monday according to Reuters.

In a statement, he described current battles as “some of the worst fighting of the entire conflict.”

Senior U.N. officials called for an immediate one-month cease-fire in Syria on February 6 to ease what they described as an “extreme situation” in the war-torn country.

“The call for an immediate cessation of hostilities … has gone unanswered,” al-Za’tari said.

Ankara Accuses Washington of Stalling Fight Against ISIS

Washington is leaving pockets of so-called Islamic State (ISIS) militants in Syria intact to justify continued cooperation with Kurdish forces in the country, Turkey’s foreign minister said Monday.

Mevlut Cavusoglu also told reporters in Istanbul that ties between Turkey and the U.S. are at a “very critical stage,” the Associated Press said.

“Either we will improve ties or these ties will totally break down,” he said ahead of a visit by U.S. secretary of state Rex Tillerson later this week, adding that the U.S. needs to take concrete steps to regain Turkey’s trust.

Turkey has repeatedly called on the U.S. to sever its support for Kurdish groups in Syria, including the Kurdish YPG militia, which is designated by Ankara as a terrorist group. However, continued U.S. support for the Syrian Democratic Forces, Washington’s primary partner in the fight against ISIS, has strained ties between the two NATO allies.

The rift deepened after Turkey launched an operation targeting the YPG in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northern Syria on January 20, despite calls by the U.S. for restraint. Ankara has also threatened to expand operations toward the town of Manbij where U.S. troops operate alongside the SDF, further compounding tensions between the two states.

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