PHOTO: Doctor treats a woman wounded by Sunday’s Islamic State bombings (SANA)



EA Special: The Effects of Russia’s Intervention in Syria and the Region
Kerry Threatens Opposition & Rebels — Accept Deal or Face Attack

Islamic State bombings on Sunday killed at least 129 people in Syria’s regime-held cities of Homs and Damascus, according to regime officials and Syrian State media.

The car bombings are the deadliest in a series of ISIS assaults in both areas. In the al-Arman district of Homs, 46 people were killed. The blasts near the Sayyeda Zeinab shrine. a revered site for Shia Muslims, in southern Damascus left 83 dead, wounded 178, and damaged 60 shops.

In Homs, two cars packed with explosives were used. In Damascus, the attacks started with a car bomb, followed by suicide bombers who detonated their belts.

The Amaq news agency, which supports the Islamic State, reported the militants’ claim of responsibility.

At the end of January, attacks near the shrine killed at least 45 people, while 22 were slain in Homs by explosions.

Claimed Video: Rebels Fighting Kurdish YPG in Aleppo

Claimed footage of rebels fighting the Kurdish militia YPG in the Ashrafiyeh seciton of Aleppo city:

There have been periodic clashes in Ashrafiyeh for years, but fighting has escalated this month amid the YPG offensive against rebels in northern Aleppo Province.

Islamic State Releases Kidnapped Assyrian Christians After Millions in Ransom

The Islamic State has released the last of more than 200 Assyrian Christians kidnapped last year in Syria, after receiving millions of dollars in ransom.

Younan Talia of the Assyrian Democratic Organization said about 40 remaining captives were released early Monday and are on their way to the northeastern town of Tal Tamr. Osama Edward, director of the Stockholm-based Assyrian Human Rights Network, said 42 Christians, mostly young women and children, were freed.

He said the release came after mediation led by a top Assyrian priest in northern Syria.

The extremists captured about 230 Assyrians in February 2015 after overrunning several village on the southern bank of the Khabur River in northeastern Hasakah Province.

Talia said IS demanded a ransom of $18 million for the Assyrian Christians. He said the figure was later lowered following negotiations, but he did not know the final amount.

An anonymous source involved in raising money for the ransom said, “We paid large amounts of money, millions of dollars, but not $18 million. We paid less than half the amount.”

US-Russia Draft: “Cessation of Hostilities” from February 27

“Two Western diplomatic sources” have said a draft US-Russian plan calls for a cessation of hostilities in Syria to begin on February 27.

Al Jazeera said the draft calls on Syrian parties to agree to the cessation by midday on February 26. One of the sources said the account is accurate.

The sources said attacks can continue on the Islamic State and the jihadists of Jabhat al-Nusra.

President Vladimir Putin later indicated that Russia may continue to bomb some rebel factions by labelling them as “terrorist”:

As for ISIS, Al-Nusra and other terror groups –– regarded as such by the UN Security Council — they are totally exempt from the truce. Strikes against them will continue.

He said Moscow and Washington will work together to determine which groups will not be targeted.

According to the White House, President Obama “emphasized that the priority now was to ensure positive responses by the Syrian regime and armed opposition as well as faithful implementation by all parties in order to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people, galvanize UN-led political process, and focus on defeating ISIL [the Islamic State].

The International Syria Support Group initially declared on February 11 the pursuit of a cessation, which would begin within a week.

Riad Hijab, the coordinator of the opposition-rebel High Negotiations Committee, said there was a provisional agreement on a temporary truce, according opposition Orient TV.

The statement came after the HNC, meeting in Saudi Arabia, discussed the US-Russian plan. Hijab said the agreement would be “according to international guarantees”.

Last weekend, the HNC suggested a ceasefire of 2 to 3 weeks, contingent on an end of Russian and regime aerial bombardment, including any attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra.

Information Minister: “There is No Such Thing as a Ceasefire”

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi has cast doubt on any possibility that the Assad regime will accept a plan for “cessation of hostilities”.

Zoubi said, “There is no such thing as a cease-fire. The Syrian army is coming and it will enter every town in Syria.”

President Assad had rejected negotiations before a total defeat of “terrorists”. However, after he was chastised by Russia, he revised his position last weekend and said that a cessation of hostilities could be implement — provided that rebels guaranteed they would not try to improve their positions and that outside powers like Turkey withdrew from any involvement in the conflict.

US Government Document Says Syrian Kurdish PYD Linked to “Terrorist” PKK

Contradicting official White House statements, a document from the US Office of the Director of National Intelligence says the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) is linked to the Turkish Kurdish insurgency PKK, listed as a “terrorist organization” by Washington.

The National Counter-Terrorism Center’s summary of the Kurdistan People Congress (KCK), which includes the PKK, declares:

The KGK’s Syrian affiliate, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), has increased its presence in northern Syria along the border with Turkey by establishing control in Kurdish areas, resulting in concerns of a heightened threat to Turkey and increased tensions along the border.

Both the White House and the State Department have maintained that, while they support Turkish action against the PKK, the PYD and its military wing YPG are not “terrorist”.

The issue has been elevated this month by the YPG’s advance against rebels in northern Aleppo Province, taking a town and villages on the Syrian-Turkish border. Ankara has responded with shelling of Kurdish positions.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu reiterated on Monday that Kerry had told him the YPG was “not reliable”:

I have thanked him for arriving at this point and seeing this truth. We have been trying to explain and we are saying it again….

Relying upon another terrorist organization in the fight against the terror organization Daesh [Islamic State] just because the former is secular when compared to Daesh is weakness, desperateness, and also a very big mistake.

Çavuşoğlu repeated that Ankara has provided Washington with evidence showing that the YPG committed the Ankara bombing on February 17 bombing that killed 28 people and wounded 61.

Islamic State Fights Back Near as-Shaddadi in Eastern Syria

The Islamic State has fought back near as-Shaddadi in Hasakah Province in eastern Syria, two days after losing the town to the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.

Kurdish outlets report fighting on Sunday evening, with casualties on both sides. The Islamic State recaptured the nearby “Village 47”.

“The clashes centered in the western suburb of Shaddadi, where ISIS militants launched a mortar attack on our headquarters,” an SDF spokesman said. “Subsequent to the terror attack, heavy clashes broke our between our fighters and ISIS militants.”

The spokesman said 11 SDF troops were slain, while at least seven ISIS fighter were killed and a dozen more wounded:

The radical group returned to the fighting front of Shaddadi in an attempt to regain control of the city. The Kurdish YPG and other units of the SDF are now trying to fortify Shaddadi against ISIS jihadis.

After recapturing this strategic city, our forces won’t give it up at any cost. The main objective if to cleanse the entire Hasakah Province from ISIS and prevent the group from returning.

The SDF had announced the capture of Shaddadi on Friday, after months of battles throughout Hasakah Province. Support by US-led airstrikes, the SDF also said it cut off a main supply route from the ISIS center of Mosul in Iraq.