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Daily Brief: New Syrian Cease-Fire Already Under Siege

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May 5, 2016

Daily News Brief

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New Syrian Cease-Fire Already Under Siege

Reports indicated fresh strikes around the Syrian city of Aleppo on Thursday despite a new cease-fire agreement. Sources told Al Jazeera that government forces dropped barrel bombs in the countryside around Aleppo after the government accused rebel fighters of violating the cease-fire during overnight shelling of government-held areas in Aleppo (Al Jazeera). The Syrian army said late Wednesday that it had agreed to a two-day partial truce including the city of Aleppo following diplomatic pressure from the United States and Russia (AFP) as the countries attempt to salvage a February cease-fire. Meanwhile, a suicide attack and car bombings in the central Syrian province of Homs reportedly killed at least six people and wounded twenty-eight (AFP).


"The parties that negotiated it did not even agree on the precise timing. The State Department said the truce had begun at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, and Syrian state television said it would take effect at 1 a.m. on Thursday. Nor did their statements clarify the main disagreement between the United States, which backs some insurgents, and Russia, the most powerful ally of the Syrian government, over which rebel groups are fair game for government and Russian airstrikes. The crux of the problem is that Nusra Front fighters, affiliated with Al Qaeda, are intermingled in parts of insurgent-held territory with rebel groups that have agreed to the partial truce. Russia says those groups can therefore be targeted, while the United States has argued against Russia’s position. The American-backed rebels have been told to dissociate from all who are not part of the truce. But some rebels have said that is impractical," writes Anne Barnard for the New York Times.

"The Russian rhetoric and Janus two-faced approach to the conflict has been starkly exposed. On one hand the Deputy Foreign Minister, Gennady Gatilov, declared that 'we are not going to put pressure on [Assad] because one must understand that the situation in Aleppo is part of this fight against the terrorist threat'. Then, on the other hand, Lieutenant-General Sergei Kurylenko was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies that 'currently active negotiations are under way to establish a 'regime of silence' [ceasefire] in Aleppo province'. Either the Russians are complicit in the attacks or they have created a monster in the regime that can't be controlled. In each scenario Aleppo will continue to burn," writes James Denselow for Al Jazeera.

"Nusra felt isolated and threatened, and struggled to maintain power under the [February] cease-fire. The Nusra Front is excluded from the cease-fire, unlike all of the other opposition groups, which effectively isolated the Nusra Front from the rest of the rebel groups. This was very threatening to Nusra, so they tried to peel groups away from the cease-fire, starting with Ahrar al-Sham. They were not successful in doing so for a long time. The Nusra Front tried desperately to convince Syrian civilians that the cease-fire was a ploy and to reject it. But most civilians wanted the cease-fire, even if they spoke out against it, because the war had taken such an immense toll on people," says Kenan Rahmani in an interview with Syria Deeply. 


North Korea Invites Foreign Journalists to Party Congress

North Korea reportedly has invited more than a hundred (Korea Times) foreign journalists to cover its party congress on Friday. The congress is the first such gathering in thirty-six years (Reuters) and is expected to include announcements that North Korea has become a nuclear weapons state.

CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker describes the history of North Korean nuclear weapons testing.

PHILIPPINES: Authorities from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines agreed to coordinate maritime patrols to counter piracy (Reuters). Militants from the Philippines-based Islamist group Abu Sayyaf have carried out kidnappings in the waters between the three countries over the past fifteen years. 


Official: Pakistan Considering Buying Russian or Chinese Combat Jets

A senior foreign ministry official in Pakistan said the country was studying options to buy Russian and Chinese fighter jets (FT) after the United States indicated it would not subsidize the sale of F-16 fighter planes to Pakistan over objections from the U.S. Congress. 

CFR's Daniel Markey discusses U.S.-Pakistan relations in this article for the Cipher Brief.

BANGLADESH: Bangladesh's Supreme Court upheld a death sentence for an Islamist leader for crimes during the 1971 liberation war with Pakistan (PTI). Motiur Rahman Nizami is expected to be hanged within days unless he is granted clemency (BBC).


Israel Bombs Gaza in New Outbreak of Border Violence

Israeli warplanes bombed northern and southern locations in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday as Palestinian militants and Israeli forces exchanged fire near the border fence (Reuters). Gazan health authorities said three children and a sixty-five-year-old were injured in the strikes (Al Jazeera) in what an Israeli military spokesman called the most serious escalation of violence in Gaza since 2014.

This CFR Crisis Guide looks at major events in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


DRC Accuses Opposition of Hiring U.S. Bodyguards

The justice minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo said the government had "documented proof" that opposition politician Moise Katumbi was using several hired former U.S. soldiers and South Africans as bodyguards (VOA). One alleged U.S. mercenary was reportedly arrested and in Congolese custody (Al Jazeera).

GAMBIA: Gambia's main opposition party called for the release of its leader and activists (AFP) arrested after an April protest for reforms in the country. The growing opposition to Gambia's leader represents rare acts of public defiance to President Yahya Jammeh since he took power in a 1996 coup (Guardian).


Turkish PM to Step Down Amid Conflict With Erdogan

In a move seen as consolidating the power of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said he would step aside at an upcoming convention of the ruling Justice and Development party (WSJ). The move will allow Erdogan to choose a new ally to fill the post.

CFR’s Steven A. Cook describes the roots of friction between Erdogan and Davutoglu in this article for the American Interest.

UNITED KINGDOM: Prime Minister David Cameron said the country would resettle unaccompanied Syrian children, though he did not commit to a specific number (BBC). The government said Syrian children registered in Greece, Italy, or France before a March 20 refugee deal with Turkey went into effect will be eligible for resettlement. 


Venezuela Calls for Extraordinary OAS Meeting

The Venezuelan government called for a special meeting of the Organization of American States as the body prepares to discuss whether Venezuela should be suspended from the organization (Miami Herald). The call represents a shift in strategy for Venezuela, which had previously accused the OAS of interference in its domestic affairs.

CANADA: A wildfire has forced 88,000 people to flee the Canadian oil city of Fort McCurray and burned down 1,600 structures (Reuters). Canadian authorities widened the evacuation order to surrounding communities while oil sands companies halted production in the area (Globe and Mail).


Poll: Growing Support for Increasing Defense Spending

Americans’ support for increased defense spending reached its highest level since 2004, with 35 percent favoring a boost, according to a recent Pew Research Center poll. Sixty-one percent of Republicans favor an increase, compared to 20 percent of Democrats.

 Ohio Gov. John Kasich suspended (CNN) his presidential campaign after placing third in the Indiana primary contest, leaving Donald Trump as the only Republican left standing in the party’s nominating contest.

Track and compare the candidates’ defense and foreign policy positions with CFR’s interactive, The Candidates and the World.

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