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Daily Brief: Diplomats Renew Syrian Cease-fire Talks

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May 3, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Diplomats Renew Syrian Cease-fire Talks

At least twenty people were killed by rebel strikes on government-controlled areas and a hospital in Aleppo on Tuesday, according to the Syrian state news agency. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also confirmed that rebel forces had fired on government locations in the city's west throughout the day (Middle East Eye). The attacks come as diplomats renew their efforts to revive a partial Syrian truce negotiated in February. The UN envoy for the Syrian conflict, Staffan de Mistura, will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov Tuesday, a day after he met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Geneva (BBC). Despite April peace talks making little progress, de Mistura said he expected such talks to resume in May (Al Jazeera).


"In noting that the partial truce had fallen apart in some parts of Syria, Mr. Kerry acknowledged what has been clear for more than a week on the ground: The relative respite from violence brought by the two-month reduction in hostilities has come to a resounding end in many areas, especially Aleppo, where more than 200 people have died in the past week, most of them civilians. About two-thirds of those deaths have been on the rebel-held side of town, which is being pummeled anew by airstrikes and by bombs dropped from helicopters, including on a hospital. But both sides have demonstrated a disregard for civilian life, with rebels firing mortar shells and missiles last week toward most of the government-held neighborhoods in Aleppo, in one of their worst barrages in recent months," write Anne Barnard and Sewell Chan for the New York Times.

"As the reality of ongoing violence becomes unavoidable to Syrians, it poses grave political risks. The insistence on building a political process centered on a COH [cessation of hostilities] that does not exist alienates important Syrian opposition actors from the internationally backed political process. It also cements new military 'facts on the ground' while fruitless negotiations continue, hastening a de facto partition of Syria along current front lines. As that happens and fighting continues, the conflict further bolsters the positions of the regime and the Islamist extremists, at the expense of other local actors," write Faysal Itani and Hossam Abouzahr for Syria Deeply.

"Yet the fall [of Aleppo] is unlikely to be a dramatic moment that will occur any time soon. As we've seen in places such as Yarmouk and Darayya, urban areas with opposition fighters present are 'softened up' through starvation and the tactics of siege attrition. So the humanitarian picture, already mind-boggling in its sheer size and tragedy, will worsen further. The international community will need to again assess its humanitarian norms and practices to face this new chapter of catastrophe. Serious discussions will need to be rebooted and re-energised about how to deliver aid to besieged civilians," writes James Denselow for Al Jazeera.


Singapore Arrests Eight Bangladeshis in Alleged Terror Plot

Singapore arrested eight men from Bangladesh, saying the group was planning terror attacks to overthrow the government in their home country (CNA). The Singapore Home Ministry said the men were part of a group called the Islamic State in Bangladesh (BBC) and had originally intended to join the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Syria.

AUSTRALIA: A Somali woman self-immolated at the Nauru island offshore processing center for asylum-seekers trying to reach Australia, days after another refugee from Iran died there after setting himself on fire (SMH). Australia's immigration minister accused human rights activists of giving asylum seekers "false hope" of influencing migration policy through such acts (NYT).


Pakistan Cautions U.S. Over Stalled Fighter Jet Deal

The adviser on foreign affairs to Pakistan's prime minister said the country would buy fighter jets from another source if the United States does not provide the expected funding for the sale of eight F-16s (Dawn). U.S. lawmakers have opposed a plan by the Obama administration to subsidize the sale (Dawn)

CFR's Daniel Markey discusses frustration in Congress with U.S. aid to Pakistan in this Foreign Policy article.

UZBEKISTAN: Severe cash shortages have spread from Uzbekistan's provinces to its capital, leaving workers in state companies with months of unpaid salaries (EurasiaNet)


Massive Layoffs at Saudi Binladin Group

The Saudi construction giant has reportedly laid off 77,000 foreign workers and will cut between 12,000 to 17,000 jobs held by Saudis, as the company deals with financial pressure stemming in part from the plunge in global crude oil prices. The total workforce of the company is about 200,000 (Al Jazeera).

CFR's Ray Takeyh discusses Saudi Arabia's economic troubles in this National Review article. 


IMF Downgrades Sub-Saharan Africa Growth Forecast

The International Monetary Fund cut its prediction for economic growth in the region to 3 percent in 2016 (FT), saying that leaders’ policy responses to the fall in commodity prices have "generally been behind the curve."

KENYA: Kenya is reviving talks with South Sudan about increasing use of Kenya’s Lamu port and transportation corridor (Daily Nation) for South Sudan to export oil.


French Trade Minister: U.S.-EU Trade Talks Likely to Halt

France's Minister of State for Trade Matthias Fekl told a radio station that negotiations for the U.S.-EU trade pact will likely halt due to the United States' reluctance to make concessions (EurActiv). The deal has been negotiated since 2013.

EUROPE: U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced during a visit to Germany that the NATO alliance is considering rotating four battalions through Baltic states and Poland as a guard against Russian actions in the region (Reuters).


Honduras Arrests Four in Murder of Environmental Activist

Four men were arrested in Honduras on suspicion of involvement in the March murder of Honduran environmentalist and indigenous activist Berta Caceres (LAHT).

BRAZIL: Brazil's top prosecutor asked the country's supreme court to reopen corruption investigations into opposition senator Aecio Neves, based on new evidence from a plea bargain (Reuters). Neves narrowly lost the 2014 presidential election to the Workers' Party’s Dilma Rousseff.

CFR's Matthew Taylor discusses Brazil's political crisis and corruption probe in this interview.


Poll: Americans Unsure if U.S. Should Withdraw From Trade Pacts

More than four in ten Americans in a Gallup poll said they didn’t know enough to say if the country should withdraw from multinational trade agreements. About 28 percent said they favored ending U.S. participation in trade pacts, while an equal percentage rejected the idea.

Track and compare the candidates’ positions on trade and other foreign policy issues with CFR’s interactive, The Candidates and the World.

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