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Daily Brief: Top Hezbollah Military Commander Killed in Syria

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May 13, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Top Hezbollah Military Commander Killed in Syria

The top military commander for Hezbollah in Syria was killed in a "huge blast" near the Damascus airport on Friday, according to a statement from the militant group (Middle East Eye). Some social media accounts linked to Syrian rebel groups, however, said he was killed in a battle in southern Aleppo (BBC). Mustafa Amine Badreddine oversaw Hezbollah's forces in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad and was also being tried in absentia in Lebanon for the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (NYT). An Israeli military spokeswoman declined to comment on whether he had been a target of an Israeli airstrike (Al Jazeera)


"The killing of Mr. Badreddine was the greatest blow to Hezbollah since the death in 2008 — in a bomb attack in Damascus — of his brother-in-law Imad Mugniyah, who was behind the 1983 bombing of the American Marine barracks in Beirut that killed 241 people, and other acts of violence. After that, Mr. Badreddine, known among the group’s ranks as Zulfiqar, became Hezbollah’s top military commander and an adviser to the group’s leader, Hassan Nasrallah," Anne Barnard and Sewell Chan write for the New York Times.

"Even before supposedly taking over the group's military operations in the country, Badreddine was considered a prominent Hezbollah commander, with an illustrious record of crimes and attacks ranging from claims he was the bomb maker behind the 1983 bombing of the U.S.­ Marines barracks in Beirut that killed 241 Americans, to his playing a key role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, for which he was tried in absentia at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Outrage at his role in the Hariri assassination might have prompted the group to move him away from Lebanon and into Syria. Badreddine was also sentenced to death in Kuwait for his role in bomb attacks there in 1983. He escaped from prison in Kuwait after Iraq invaded the country in 1990 under the leadership of Saddam Hussein," Jack Khoury and Tom Perry write for Haaretz.

"Hezbollah currently fights alongside the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of the Alawite community, against a largely Sunni rebellion. Hezbollah has sent thousands of fighters into Syria. Sources close to the party say between 7,000 to 10,000 members of its militants operate there. On the other hand, Lebanese Sunnis and Palestinian refugees in Lebanon support the Syrian rebels; between 800 and 1,000 Sunnis from Lebanon have gone to fight in Syria, according to Tripoli and Bekaa Salafi sheikhs speaking on the condition of anonymity," Mona Alami writes for the Atlantic Council.

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Twitter Suspends Account That Posted Personal Details of Chinese Elite

A mysterious Twitter account posted personal details of Chinese billionaires and the architect of the country's Internet firewall for a few hours before Twitter shut it down, citing the restriction on posting personal information like ID numbers on the platform (NYT).

VIETNAM: The wife of a pastor from a banned church in Vietnam said she was interrogated by police over her meeting with a U.S. diplomatic delegation on religious freedom two months ago (RFA). Tran Thi Hong also said she suffered beatings from authorities following the March meeting.


Afghanistan, Pakistan Deploy Tanks to Tense Border

Tensions escalated (Dawn) along the Torkham border crossing, where Pakistan is erecting a fence it says is to keep fighters from infiltrating its borders. Thousands of trucks have been stranded on Pakistan’s side of the border, including ones carrying supplies for NATO troops in Afghanistan (Al Jazeera). Pakistani officials closed the crossing on Tuesday as Afghan forces prevented workers from installing barbed wire.

KYRGYZSTAN: The Kyrgyz parliament voted against a bill that would have required foreign-funded nongovernmental organizations to register as foreign agents (EurasiaNet).


Report: U.S. Special Ops Outposts in Libya Since Late 2015

A new report (WaPo) says that U.S. special operations forces numbering fewer than twenty-five have been stationed at two military outposts in eastern and western Libya since late 2015. The U.S. "contact teams" are tasked with identifying potential allies among armed groups around the cities of Misurata and Benghazi to be partners in an advance against the self-proclaimed Islamic State.

Mary Fitzgerald discusses security in Libya and the risk of inserting Western forces into the fight against the Islamic State in this CFR interview.


Diplomats Walk Out of Uganda Presidential Inauguration

Delegates from the United States, Canada, and Europe abruptly walked out (AP) of the inauguration of Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni for his fifth term in office following derogatory comments he made about the International Criminal Court. A U.S. spokeswoman also said that the delegates objected to the presence of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who has been charged by the court for atrocities in Darfur, at the ceremony.

GABON: Royal Dutch Shell is planning a sale of its assets in Gabon, according to the country's president, who said the buyers would likely be Middle Eastern, European, and U.S. companies (WSJ). Meanwhile, Chevron and Shell halted production at two locations in Nigeria (FT) as the country's crude output dropped to a twenty-year low.

CFR's John Campbell discusses attacks by militants on Nigeria's oil infrastructure in this blog post.


UK Typhoon Fighter Jets Intercept Three Russian Aircraft

The UK defense ministry said it successfully deployed Typhoon fighter jets from the Amari air base in Estonia to intercept three Russian aircraft that were unresponsive and not transmitting recognized identification codes (Reuters). The UK defense secretary called (Independent) the incident an "act of Russian aggression" and a "demonstration of our commitment to NATO's collective defense."

GREECE: The European Union said the number of migrants arriving on Greek shores dropped 90 percent in April compared to the previous month (AP), following an EU migrant deal with Turkey. The 2,700 migrants who arrived on Greece's coast in April represented a number below what had often been the daily tally of migrants in Lesbos during peak months last year.

Gerald Knaus explains why the EU-Turkey migrant deal could be the least-bad option to resolve the crisis in this CFR interview.


Brazil's Interim President Picks Cabinet With No Afro-Brazilians, Women

Interim President Michel Temer garnered outcry after he named a cabinet with no women or afro-Brazilian ministers (NYT), a sharp break from the government under Dilma Rousseff, who was suspended from office Thursday as she goes on trial for impeachment charges related to budget mismanagement.

VENEZUELA: U.S. federal prosecutors proposed a November start date for a trial of two nephews of Venezuela's first lady on cocaine trafficking charges (LAHT).


Survey: America’s Middle Class Has Shrunk

Nearly nine out of ten U.S. metropolitan areas saw the number of middle-class households shrink between 2000 and 2014, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center. The research also found a decline in median income, rise in income inequality, and loss of manufacturing jobs, which are also the major themes of this year's presidential campaigns.

Track and compare how candidates address these issues in their trade policies with CFR’s interactive, The Candidates and the World.

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