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Daily Brief: Syria Cease-Fire Tested by Fighting in Damascus Suburb

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September 16, 2016

Daily News Brief

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TOP OF THE AGENDA

Syria Cease-Fire Tested by Fighting in Damascus Suburb

A cease-fire in Syria that has largely held for four days faced a significant challenge on Friday morning as severe clashes were reported near Damascus. Rebel groups and the Syrian government blamed each other for the outburst of violence (CBS) in Jobar district, which hosts rebel fighters (Middle East Eye), including those from al-Qaeda's former Syrian branch. The violence comes as UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura accused the government of Bashar al-Assad of holding up humanitarian aid convoys (NYT) in violation of last week’s U.S.-Russia agreement.

ANALYSIS

"If, in the end, Russian air strikes in Syria are subjected to an American veto, the Assad regime is kept from striking civilian neighborhoods, and significant aid flows resume to opposition areas, something of great value will have been accomplished. Nothing good can happen politically in Syria unless civilians are removed from the Assad regime and Russian bullseye. Nothing. If this agreement can spare Syrian civilians from continued mass murder it will be good in and of itself. There are however good reasons to believe the gains will be limited or temporary, judging from the regime’s track record during the previous cessation of hostilities and the lack of any enforcement mechanism," Frederic C. Hof and Faysal Itani write for the Atlantic Council.

"If this pessimism [about the cease-fire] is borne out, the temptation will be to increase diplomatic efforts. This could be futile, as diplomacy tends to reflect conditions on the ground more than it shapes them. The alternative would be to change conditions on the ground. One could imagine an effort to make certain areas safe. It would require creating a humanitarian zone, something that would entail air cover and ground troops from rebel groups, and friendly neighbours. Such an approach would not end the war, but that is beyond anyone for the foreseeable future," CFR President Richard N. Haass writes in the Financial Times.

"The Assad regime is responsible for over 90 percent of the sieges in Syria, and despite UN Security resolutions authorising aid to be delivered 'across conflict-lines,' the UN has capitulated to the regime’s strategy by only entering areas where it is permitted. Data shows that around 96 percent of aid goes to regime areas while only 4 percent goes to opposition areas. As a result, all deaths from starvation in Syria have happened in opposition-held areas. Government areas are strengthened while opposition areas wither and starve under the constant rain of barrel bombs. This self-confessed 'starvation-until-submission' strategy often culminates in local truces, readily mediated and supported by the UN," Lara Nelson writes for Middle East Eye.

PACIFIC RIM

Typhoon Kills Eight in Taiwan, China

Seven people were killed in southeastern China and one in Taiwan as Typhoon Meranti hit land (SCMP). It has since been downgraded to a tropical storm as a second typhoon, Malakas, approaches (CNN) Taiwan and Japan.

JAPAN: Aides to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said (Bloomberg) the administration is studying policies that could double the number of foreign workers. Such a move could boost a workforce that faces an aging population and low birthrate.

SOUTH AND CENTRAL ASIA

Prominent Kashmiri Activist Arrested

Police in India-controlled Kashmir arrested activist Khurram Parvez a day after he was prohibited from leaving the country (AP) to address the United Nations in Geneva. The region has seen two months of protests, with at least eighty people killed, following the death of a rebel leader.

CFR’s Global Conflict Tracker discusses the history of the disputed Kashmir region.

AFGHANISTAN: U.S. senators said $5 billion in annual aid to Afghanistan could be in jeopardy if Kabul does not address widespread corruption (RFE/RL). The comments followed the release of a report by the U.S. government watchdog for Afghanistan reconstruction that said U.S. military and political goals "consistently trumped" efforts to combat corruption.

MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA

UK Committee Calls for End to UK Saudi Arms Sales

A report from a UK joint parliamentary committee said the country should stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia (Middle East Eye) until the United Nations can investigate allegations of human rights abuses in the civil war in Yemen. The report said it was "inevitable" that UK-made weapons had been used in the conflict.

This Backgrounder gives an overview of the myriad interests in Yemen’s civil war.

SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA

European Companies Sell Toxic Diesel to Africa: Report

A new report from the Swiss nongovernmental organization Public Eye accused (Africa News) European commodities traders of selling diesel fuels banned in Europe for their high pollution levels to African countries. The report said the resulting pollution could lead to 25,000 annual deaths in Africa by 2030 (FT).

ZIMBABWE: The central bank will begin to issue its own bank notes in October to address a severe currency shortage (WSJ). The country began using several foreign currencies in 2009, and most transactions are made in U.S. dollars.

EUROPE

Erdogan Rival Accuses Government of Tyranny

Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in exile in the United States and is accused by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of plotting an attempted coup in July, called (NYT) the wide government crackdown following the putsch "dark pages in world history." An aide said Gulen was "not worried" about Turkish attempts to have him extradited.

CFR's Steven A. Cook discussed the consequences of the failed coup attempt in Turkey in this CFR conference call.

UKRAINE: The International Monetary Fund released a long-delayed $1 billion emergency payment to Ukraine (WSJ). The payment had been withheld for months as Kiev faced criticism for corruption and budgetary concerns.

AMERICAS

U.S. Seeks $14 Billion Settlement With Deutsche Bank

The U.S. Justice Department reportedly proposed that Deutsche Bank pay $14 billion to settle a probe into mortgage-backed securities from the 2008 financial crisis (WSJ). The bank said it had "no intention" (BBC) of settling the claims near the proposed figure.

GLOBAL

ICC to Prosecute Environmental Crimes

The International Criminal Court at the Hague said it will begin prosecuting environmental and land crimes (VOA) as crimes against humanity, in addition to genocide and war crimes. The announcement comes as campaigners press the court’s prosecutor to investigate a case of alleged land dispossession in Cambodia by officials and businessmen.

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