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Daily Brief: Rebels Surrender Damascus Suburb, Ending Regime's Four-Year Siege

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August 26, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Rebels Surrender Damascus Suburb, Ending Regime's Four-Year Siege

The Syrian government reached a deal with rebels in the besieged town of Daraya for hundreds of fighters to flee to the city of Idlib as civilians are evacuated and taken to government-controlled areas. The town, less than two miles from Damascus, is considered deeply symbolic by both sides in the war (NYT). An estimated 8,000 civilians still live in Daraya after four years under siege by the government (Middle East Eye). The evacuation could begin as early as Friday (Al Jazeera) and last several days. The surrender comes as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Geneva to speak with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to negotiate a temporary cease-fire in the city of Aleppo, where hundreds have died in recent weeks in an escalation of fighting (BBC).


"The surrender and evacuation of the Damascus suburb after a brutal four-year siege is a devastating blow to opposition morale and a long-sought prize for Assad. Weeks of intense bombardment, which activists claim included napalm attacks, has finally overwhelmed rebels. The evacuation will be carried out in stages, with fighters leaving for opposition-controlled areas, but the fate of the few thousand civilians who have endured years of fighting and deprivation is still unclear," Emma Graham-Harrison writes for the Guardian.

"The deal in Daraya was portrayed by the Syrian state media as a magnanimous victory and by government opponents as a bitter but necessary surrender. The town was surrounded and besieged in 2012, not long after residents described a knife massacre by pro-government militias that killed hundreds of people. Since then, the government has allowed just two United Nations aid deliveries, both in June, taking in mosquito nets and shampoo when some people were ill because of lack of food," Anne Barnard and Hwaida Saad write for the New York Times.

"We are seeing discussions between the U.S. Department of Defense and Russian Ministry of Defense about engaging in joint activities against terrorist groups. It is in Russia’s interest for Nusra to be one of the groups targeted in any joint campaign. But [joint action against it] will only empower Nusra, because it will appeal to people saying that the United States from the beginning has sought to keep Assad in power. Any cooperation between Russia and the United States that targets Nusra will end up playing right into the hands of Nusra, because it will use the cooperation to disseminate a victimization narrative that will be very appealing to people," Lina Khatib says in this CFR interview. 

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CFR's James M. Lindsay and Robert McMahon discuss the escalation of Syria's war, the UN-observed International Day Against Nuclear Tests, and the U.S. Open tennis championships. Listen and subscribe.



Japan Government Pension Fund Posts $52 Billion Loss

The Japan Government Pension Investment Fund posted a quarterly loss of $52 billion (FT). The president of the fund, the world's largest, blamed market volatility following the United Kingdom's vote to leave the European Union and U.S. unemployment data from May.

CHINA: China is allowing foreign internet companies, such as Microsoft and Cisco, to participate in a government committee that defines cybersecurity controls (WSJ).


U.S. Aid to Pakistan Drops Steeply

Pakistan, which in recent years had been the third-largest recipient of foreign aid from the United States, is expected to receive less than $1 billion this year (Reuters). In 2011 that number was $3.5 billion; Pakistan has not received less than $1 billion annually since 2007. Experts say the drop reflects U.S. frustration with Pakistan's support for the Taliban in Afghanistan.

This CFR InfoGuide examines the history of the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

TAJIKISTAN: An amnesty law adopted by the Tajik parliament will affect an estimated 12,000 people, including thousands of prisoners who will be freed or have their sentences shortened (RFE/RL). Those convicted of murder, terrorism, and religious extremism are not subject to the amnesty. President Emomali Rahmon proposed the amnesty to commemorate the anniversary of the country's independence from the Soviet Union.


U.S. Vessel Fires Warning Shots at Iranian Military Boat in Gulf

A Pentagon spokesman said a U.S. vessel fired warning shots after a fast-attack boat from Iran approached two U.S. ships in the Gulf this week (Reuters). Iran's defense minister said the ships were in Iranian waters (BBC).


Report: Pirate Attacks Fall to Twenty-One Year Low

The first half of 2016 saw ninety-eight successful or attempted pirate attack on ships worldwide, the lowest number since 1995 (FT), according to the International Chamber of Commerce. Attacks off Somalia and Indonesia have dropped while incidents off the coast of Nigeria have risen. Experts credit increased surveillance of waters, ship owners' growing willingness to employ armed guards, and modifications that make ships more difficult to board.

SOMALIA: Al-Shabab claimed responsibility for an attack on a restaurant in Mogadishu (Africa News) that killed at least six people (Al Jazeera).   

This CFR Backgrounder examines the history of Al-Shabab.


Eleven Police Officers Killed in Turkey's Southeast

A truck bomb exploded outside police headquarters in the southeastern Turkish city of Cizre (Al Jazeera), killing eleven officers and wounding dozens more. Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim blamed the Kurdistan Workers' Party for the attack (Hurriyet).

HUNGARY: Prime Minister Viktor Orban announced that Hungary would build a second border fence on its border with Serbia to prevent migrants from entering the country (Reuters). Orban said the additional fence would strengthen the country's defense should a Turkish deal with the European Union to stem migrant flows fall apart.

This CFR Backgrounder discusses Europe's migration crisis.


Report: Bolivian Official Killed by Striking Miners

Bolivia's interior minister said "all indications" showed that the country's deputy interior minister was kidnapped and killed in an attack by striking miners (BBC). Two workers were killed after being shot by police during a protest earlier this week (Reuters).

ARGENTINA: Thirty-eight former military officials were convicted of crimes of kidnapping, torture, and murder for their roles in Argentina's military dictatorship (NYT). The trial took place in the central province of Cordoba, where clandestine prisons held leftist prisoners during the 1976–83 dictatorship (LAHT).

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