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The five-year Syrian civil war, faces its most critical moment. Saturday, Feb. 6, a combined force of Syrian army and Hizballah troops and an Iraqi Shiite militia under Iranian officers, were led by Russian air and Spetsnaz (special forces) officers into pressing forward to encircle 35,000 rebels trapped in Aleppo, the country’s largest city. As they tightened the siege, 400,000 Syrian civilians were also trapped and forced to bear heavy Russian air bombardment and savage artillery fire from the ground forces closing in on the city.
In Riyadh, Brig, Gen. Ahmed Asiri, adviser to Saudi Defense Minister Muhammed Bin Salman, announced Friday that Saudi Arabia is ready “to participate in any ground operations that the international coalition launches against ISIS.” This offer was taken as a veiled response to the SOS from the rebel stronghold in Aleppo.
In Washington, State Department circles, in a briefing to US media, said the time had come to establish a no-fly security zone in northern Syria. They said: “Once a zone were established we do not believe Russia would challenge the stronger US and NATO forces, particularly if they were operating mainly from Turkey.”
The next day, Friday, Moscow came back with a sharp response: Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov said: “Russian air defense systems enable early detection of threats to Russian aircraft flying combat missions over Syria and provide adequate measures to ensure flight safety.”
This was a reminder of the sophisticated air defense S-400 and S-300 missile systems Russia installed at its Syrian air base after the Turkish air force downed a Russian warplane in November.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem put it more crudely: “Any foreign troops entering Syria would return home in wooden coffins.”
Full article: Russian hands-off warning to US, Saudis, Turks amid crucial Aleppo battle (DEBKAfile)