Mother of Syria's Assad Dies

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Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard carry the caskets of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Mohsen Ghajarian, who was killed in the northern province of Aleppo, on February 6, 2016.
Members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard carry the caskets of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Brigadier General Mohsen Ghajarian, who was killed in the northern province of Aleppo, on February 6, 2016.Credit: AFP

Aniseh Makhlouf, mother of Syria's Assad, dies

Aniseh Makhlouf, Syria's former first lady and the mother of current President Bashar Assad, died Saturday, the presidency announced. She was 86.

A statement on the presidency's official Facebook page says Makhlouf, the wife of the late President Hafez Assad, died in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Makhlouf was born in 1930 to a prominent and wealthy Alawite family from the coastal province of Latakia in the heartland of the religious minority, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.

She married Hafez in 1957 when he was an air force lieutenant and rarely appeared in public after he became president in 1971. Although she kept a low profile, she was known to be the family matriarch and exerted strong influence over her husband and children.

Iran holds funeral for general, five soldiers killed near Aleppo

Iran has held a funeral for six soldiers, including a senior Revolutionary Guard general, who were killed while fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria.

State TV says Gen. Mohsen Ghajarian and five others were killed in northern Syria while battling the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels. A major Syrian government offensive is underway near the northern city of Aleppo.

Iran says it has sent military advisers to help Assad's forces but denies sending any combat troops into Syria. A number of Iranians have been killed in recent months, including several high-ranking commanders.

The Guard's top commander, Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, said at the funeral Saturday that Iran has no plans to send combat troops to Syria.

Syria warns Saudis, Bahrain: Foreign troops would come home 'in coffins'

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Mouallem has warned that any foreign ground troops entering his country would "return home in wooden coffins."

Al-Mouallem spoke Saturday at his ministry in Damascus, responding to questions by reporters.

Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's army spokesman had said his country was willing to send ground troops to Syria as part of a U.S.-led military campaign against Islamic State extremists. The group controls large parts of Syria and Iraq.

Al-Mouallem says that any attack on Syrian territory without the consent of his government will be considered an act of aggression and will be dealt with accordingly.

He said conventional wisdom and logic would suggest the idea of Saudi troops in Syria is hard to imagine, but that "with the crazy Saudi leadership nothing is far-fetched." Read full story

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem talks to media during a news conference in Damascus on February 6, 2016Credit: AFP

Turkey refuses to let tens of thousands of Syrian cross border

A senior government official says Turkey is caring for some 30,000 to 35,000 displaced Syrians on the Syrian side of the border and has no immediate plans to let them in.

Governor Suleyman Tapsiz of the border province of Kilis said Saturday Turkey had the ability to care for the Syrians inside Syria for the time being but had made preparations to allow them in in the event of an "extraordinary crisis." He did not elaborate.

Thousands of Syrians rushed toward the Turkish border Friday, fleeing fierce government offensives and intense Russian airstrikes. Turkey kept its Oncupinar border crossing, opposite Syria's Bab al-Salam, closed for a second day Saturday and aid workers said the refugees were being directed to displaced people's camps near the border.

Tapsiz said an estimated that 70,000 more Syrian could arrive at the border if the Russian and Syrian strikes don't end.

Turkey is already home to 2.5 million Syrian refugees. Read full story

Syrians walk towards the Turkish border at the Bab al-Salam border gate, Syria, Feb. 5, 2016.Credit: AP

EU urges Turkey to keep border open to Syrian refugees

The European Union has called on Turkey to open its borders to thousands of Syrians who are fleeing fierce government offensives and intense Russian airstrikes.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini says "the support that the EU is providing to Turkey, among others, is aimed exactly at guaranteeing" that Ankara can protect and host people that are seeking asylum.

EU foreign ministers met with their Turkish counterpart for informal talks in Amsterdam on Saturday .

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the government was keeping "this open border policy for these people fleeing from the aggression of the regime as well as air strikes of Russia."

"We need to keep this open door policy for them. We have received already more than 5,000 of them. Another 50-55,000 of them are on the way and we cannot leave them there."

Refugees push each other as they wait for tents in Bab-Al Salam, near the city of Azaz, northern Syria, near the Turkish border crossing.Credit: AFP