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2/28/16

Middle East: Turkey gives up on Obama, bristles over Syria deal – Roy Gutman

The Russian-American agreement on a partial cease fire in Syria, hailed by President Vladimir Putin as a “real chance” to stop the war, got a wary welcome this week in Turkey, whose government fears that Moscow will exploit the deal and continue with its bombing campaign to redraw the battlefield of Syria in favor of Bashar Assad’s regime.

It’s not only distrust of Russia, which according to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus has completed 8,000 sorties since October, nine-tenths of them directed against the moderate opposition and civilian targets, and only a tenth against the fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

Adding to doubts about Moscow’s intentions in Syria is the fact that the accord goes into effect on Saturday, more than two weeks after the U.S. and Russia announced there would be a cessation of hostilities. “Apparently the Russians had some things to do on the ground,” said a senior Turkish official.

Then there’s the loophole that allows Russia — or the U.S.-led coalition — to continue bombing ISIL and Jabhat al Nusra, the Al Qaeda affiliate, whose fighters are mixed with moderate rebels in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province.

And, above all, the skepticism about the cease-fire deal reflects the Turkish ruling establishment’s loss of confidence in Moscow’s negotiating partner in Syria — Washington. Officials in Ankara say they doubt the U.S. has the political will to see that this or any other agreement is upheld.

After nearly five years of watching Washington fumble the Syria crisis, Turkish officials say they are giving up on the Obama administration and will await its successor to craft a strategy for sorting out the Middle East’s expanding conflict.

Since the beginning of Russia’s air campaign on September 30, Syria’s low-intensity conflict has morphed into a high-stakes geopolitical contest. From the Turkish perspective, Washington silently stood by as rebel groups, backed by the U.S., Turkey and other allies were ousted from vital locations by Assad’s Russian-backed forces. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were sent fleeing their homes.

The relentless Russian bombing of cities, towns, villages and farms to prop up the Assad regime’s tenuous hold on power has killed at least 1,500 civilians, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR). In February alone, the bombardment displaced more than 75,000 civilians in the war-wrecked country, according to the U.N. Refugee Agency.

Read more: Turkey gives up on Obama, bristles over Syria deal – POLITICO

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