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Daily Brief: Syrian Rebels Mount Fresh Offensive on Aleppo

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August 8, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Syrian Rebels Mount Fresh Offensive on Aleppo

Allied rebel forces broke (NYT) a weeks-long government siege on Aleppo, advancing into the city's southwest. The rebels seized a government artillery school, tentatively opened a road to rebel-held parts of the city, and cut the supply routes (FT) to government-held districts. Syrian government troops, backed by Russian air power, had encircled the rebel-controlled eastern part of the city last month. Damascus denied the recent gains by the rebels and released footage of air bombardments (BBC) on Monday. Hundreds of fighters and additional military equipment for both regime and rebel forces are said to have arrived in Aleppo (AFP).


"Aleppo is Syria’s most important centre of civil activism. It houses revolutionary councils and emergency healthcare projects, independent newspapers and radio stations, theatre groups and basement schools. Despite years of barrel bombs and scud missiles, 300,000 people remain in the liberated zone. The fall of Aleppo certainly wouldn’t end the war, but it would probably mark the final defeat of the revolution. A few days ago it seemed this course of events was inevitable. Almost every relevant local, regional and global power was working to ensure it," writes Robin Yassin-Kassab in the New Arab.

"In the two weeks following the encirclement of eastern Aleppo, at least 99 civilians, including 25 children, have been killed, with the majority of the victims dying due to the aerial attacks, according to the Syrian Network for Human Rights. The airstrikes showed no signs of stopping or slowing down, so residents of eastern Aleppo began burning tires in hopes of confusing government and Russian aircraft. The movement has resonated strongly with the residents of Aleppo, said Shamy, and civilians of all ages are participating," writes Hiba Dlewati in Syria Deeply.

"In Russia's calculation, a besieged Aleppo could be far more valuable than an Assad-controlled one, both strategically and diplomatically. As long as a zero-sum fight for the city continues, Moscow plays a key role in the negotiations. All other issues, including Assad's future in Syria, are pushed to the back burner because Aleppo is perceived as a stronghold of the opposition and its fall would symbolize the victory of Damascus, or, according to some experts, the end of the opposition movement against Assad altogether," writes Yury Barmin in Al-Monitor.


Japan's Emperor Indicates Wish to Abdicate

Eighty-two-year-old Emperor Akihito, in a rare recorded address, expressed concern (Japan Times) about his health and age hindering his ability to fulfill his duties as a "symbol of the state" on Monday. His speech is seen as a signal that he wishes to abdicate. For an emperor to abdicate, legal changes must be passed to the imperial system.

THAILAND: A draft constitution proposed by the military junta passed (Bangkok Post) with 61.4 percent of the vote in a national referendum on Sunday, according to unofficial results. The new document outlines a path to return Thailand to a civilian government, but critics say it entrenches military control.

CFR's Joshua Kurlantzick explores what's in store for Thailand after the vote in this blog post.


Bomb Kills Dozens in Quetta Hospital

At least seventy people were killed and scores others injured in a blast (Al Jazeera) at a hospital in the Balochistan provincial capital of Quetta in southwestern Pakistan. There has been no claim of responsibility for the bombing that hit the hospital as people gathered to mourn the death of a prominent lawyer.

AFGHANISTAN: Two foreigners, an Australian and a U.S. citizen, were abducted (RFE/RL) in the capital of Kabul. They are believed to be university employees. The news comes days after the Taliban attacked a group of foreign tourists in northwestern Herat province.

This CFR InfoGuide looks at the reemergence of the Taliban in Afghanistan.


Iran Executes Nuclear Scientist

The spokesman for the Iranian judiciary confirmed the execution (Guardian) of nuclear scientist Shahram Amiri on Sunday. Amiri was accused of giving away state secrets after returning to Tehran from the United States.


UN to Consider 4,000-Strong Force For South Sudan Capital

The United States proposed a draft resolution for the UN Security Council to allow a 4,000-strong protection force (Reuters) to maintain peace in the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Last week, the South Sudanese government agreed to the deployment (Al Jazeera) of a regional protection force after renewed heavy fighting between rival factions.

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker follows developments in the South Sudanese conflict.

SOMALIA: The president of Somalia's election commission announced the dates (VOA) for upcoming elections. Parliamentary elections will begin at the end of September and the presidential election will take place on October 30. Separately, militant group Al-Shabab fired mortars (Shabelle Media Network) on the southwestern city of Baidoa, killing one and injuring four others on Saturday.


Millions Rally in Support of Turkish Leader

Massive crowds gathered in Istanbul on Sunday in a show of support (AP) for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party. Nearly eighteen thousand people have been detained or arrested in the crackdown following last month's failed coup. Meanwhile, Erdogan will meet (FT) with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday in St. Petersburg for the Turkish leader's first trip abroad after the attempted coup.

BELGIUM: Belgian authorities launched a terrorism investigation (WSJ) into Sunday's machete attack on police officers in the city of Charleroi. The self-proclaimed Islamic State claimed the attack was carried out by one of its "soldiers."


Deadly Tropical Storm Hits Mexico

At least thirty-eight are dead (BBC) following landslides and flooding caused by a tropical storm that swept across eastern Mexico over the weekend.

 VENEZUELA: The price of Venezuelan oil fell (LAHT) for a sixth consecutive week, dropping to $33.36, according to official figures. As of 2015, Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, yet low oil prices are exacerbating a serious economic crisis.

This CFR Backgrounder provides background and analysis on Venezuela's political and economic crises. 

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