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Turkey, Saudi may send troops as Syrian army pushes into IS bastion

13 February 2016

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have hinted at sending ground troops to fight Islamic State (IS) jihadists in Syria, amidst a Syrian push into ISIS stronghold with Russian backing, opening the possibility of an escalation of the strife in West Asia.

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu made the statement even as Syrian government forces were poised to advance into the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa province and allied Russian jets kept up air strikes on rebel-held towns north of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported today.

The Turkish foreign minister said besides ground forces, Riyadh is also sending war planes to a Turkish base to fight the extremists.

"If there is a strategy (against IS) then Turkey and Saudi Arabia could enter into a ground operation," media reports quoted Cavusoglu as saying.

The reports by the Yeni Safak and Haberturk newspapers come after the Munich Security Conference on Friday, at which major powers agreed to a pause in combat in Syria.

Russia, however, pressed on with bombing in support of its ally President Bashar al-Assad, who vowed to fight until he regained full control of the country.

A breakthrough in cessation of fighting in Syria is unlikely soon as the "cessation of hostilities" agreement comes at a time when Assad's government is poised to win its biggest victory with the backing of Russian air power.

An advance into Raqqa would re-establish a Syrian government foothold in the province for the first time since 2014 and could pre-empt any move by Saudi Arabia to send ground forces to fight Islamic State militants in Syria.

Russia is pressing ahead with its four-month-old air campaign in support of President Bashar al-Assad ahead of "a cessation of hostilities" agreed by major powers on Friday. Russia has a week to implement the agreement.

The Syrian army, meanwhile, announced the capture of more ground in northern Aleppo, where its advances backed by allied Lebanese Hezbollah and Iranian fighters have cut the main rebel supply route from Turkey into opposition-held parts of Aleppo.

If the Syrian troops succeed in retaking Aleppo and sealing the Turkish border, it would deal a crushing blow to both ISIS and Syrian insurgents opposed to Assad's rule.

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