News Roundup and Notes: April 2, 2015

Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

IRAQ and SYRIA

Syrian rebels and Nusra Front fighters have captured the only functioning border crossing into Jordan as well as three military posts in the areathe Syrian government has responded with bombing raids. [AP]

The Islamic State has seized new territory in the central Syrian province of Hama over recent days, killing dozens of civilians, and advancing yesterday into the Yarmouk district of Damascus. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard and Hwaida Saad]  Reports from Yarmouk say clashes have taken place in the refugee camp that houses Palestinians, after some ISIS fighters were detained by an opposition group aligned with Hamas and based in the camp. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

The mood in Tikrit was largely celebratory yesterday, a day after government forces pushed the Islamic State out of the city center, marking the Iraqi force’s most significant victory so far. [Washington Post’s Loveday Morris]  The battle to retake Tikrit empowered a new wave of Shi’ite militias and it is now hoped by the U.S. that these fighters—who are said not to be tied to Iran—will assist in fighting Sunni militants across Iraq, write Matt Bradley and Julian E. Barnes. [Wall Street Journal]

Syria and Iraq are “international finishing schools” for Islamist extremists, according to a new UN report, which estimates that the number of foreign terrorist fighters has sharply risen to over 25,000 from 100 countries. [AP

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. The U.S. and coalition military forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on March 31. Separately, coalition forces conducted a further seven strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Nine U.K. citizens are being held in Turkey, accused of trying to enter Syria illegally; around 600 Britons have so far gone to Syria or Iraq since the Islamic State seized control of large parts of the region. [BBC]

Former Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki “still looms large” in government affairs, despite his ouster some months ago, write Loveday Morris and Liz Sly. [Washington Post]

YEMEN

Shi’ite Houthi rebel forces pushed into central Aden yesterday, battling for control of the key port city. [New York Times’ Saeed al-Batati and Kareem Fahim]  Saudi-led airstrikes early this morning forced Houthi fighters to pull back from positions in Aden, but the fighters remain in parts of the central Khor Maksar district. [Reuters]

Yemenis formerly supportive of the Saudi-led campaign are rejecting the operation, as civilian casualties pile up and infrastructure is destroyed. The UN estimated yesterday that strikes had killed 93 and wounded 364 this week. [Wall Street Journal’s Hakim Almasmari and Maria Abi-Habib]

AQAP militants have stormed a prison in the city of Al Mukallah, freeing at least 270 detainees, many of whom have al-Qaeda links, according to local officials. [CNN’s Hakim Almasmari and Don Melvin]

The New York Times “Room for Debate questions whether the U.S. should provide more than logistical and intelligence support to the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.

The “ghost” of former Egyptian president Gamel Abdel Nasser “hovers” over Yemen, writes Jesse Ferris, explaining the historic background to Arab intervention in the country and the Saudi reaction sparked by “the meddling of an adversary.” [New York Times] 

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Nuclear talks continued through the night and resumed this morning, two days after the original self-imposed deadline to reach a political agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier said they would remain at the discussions at least until Thursday. [Reuters’ John Irish et al] The foreign ministers are due to consider Iranian proposals that could involve new flexibility over the lifting of UN sanctions. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan]

President Obama told American negotiators to disregard the Tuesday deadline only hours before the cutoff time, as the Iranians were using the sensitive timing to gain ground in the negotiations, according to those familiar with the talks. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon and David E. Sanger]

The White House will consider alternatives to diplomacy if nuclear talks fail, press secretary Josh Earnest acknowledged yesterday. Earnest added that the U.S. could not be blamed for any collapse, having “given Iran every opportunity to make the kinds of serious commitments that the international community expects.” [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon et al]

GOP lawmakers called for tighter sanctions as talks continued past the deadline, with a number of Republicans issuing statements criticizing the nuclear diplomacy. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

The “pre-emptive blame game has already begun,” even as the negotiating parties agree to extensions, reports Sarah Wheaton. [Politico]

The “split personalities” within the American and Iranian governments are equally to blame for faltering nuclear talks, writes Christopher Dickey. [The Daily Beast]

The Iran deal is “irrelevant,” writes Daniel Henninger, noting that past experience with North Korea shows that Iran’s nuclear program will continue with or without a deal. [Wall Street Journal] Ambassador Dennis Ross similarly outlines that Iran will remain a nuclear threat, even if an accord is concluded. [Politico Magazine]

CYBERSECURITY 

The Cybersecurity Information Sharing Act is “a major new privacy threat to individual citizens,” encouraging corporations to share more customer information with U.S. intelligence agencies, reports Lee Fang. [The Intercept]

President Obama signed an executive order authorizing sanctions against foreign hackers; the new powers would allow the U.S. to freeze assets and bar entry to the U.S., treating cyber spies like terrorists and nuclear arms dealers, report David Perera and Tal Kopan. [Politico]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Palestinian leaders will wait for the outcome of the preliminary investigation into the situation in Palestine launched by the ICC’s chief prosecutor in January, before taking the “more provocative step” of requesting the court to investigate specific cases. [New York Times’ Diaa Hadid and Marlise Simons]

House Speaker John Boehner presented a united front with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a press conference in Israel, even as ties between Israel and the Obama administration remain frayed. [Politico’s Jake Sherman]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Sen. Robert Menendez has temporarily stepped down as ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to deal with his indictment on corruption charges. The move could threaten the chances of passing new Iran legislation, which Menendez co-authored with chair Bob Corker and which would allow Congress to weigh in on any nuclear agreement. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Al-Shabaab gunmen attacked Kenya’s Garissa University College early today, killing at least 14 people, taking Christian students hostage and engaging in a gun battle with security forces over a number of hours. [Reuters’ Drazen Jorgic]

A suicide attack in Afghanistan killed at least 20 people when a bomb exploded outside the governor’s office in the province of Khost early today, said local police. [Al Jazeera]

Two militant ambushes in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula have killed 10 Egyptian security force members; the attacks come as the country grapples with a swelling insurgency in the province, which borders the Gaza Strip and Israel. [AP’s Ashraf Sweilam]

Poland has formally requested the U.S. to not sentence to death alleged USS Cole bombing mastermind, Abd al Rahim al Nashiri; the request is in light of a recent European Court of Human Rights ruling on Poland’s role in the CIA’s rendition program. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Twelve women have now qualified for the Army’s Ranger School after six servicewomen succeeded in passing the latest test qualifying them for the first gender-integrated full Ranger Course to start April 20, one of the military’s most elite special operations programs. [Defense One’s Molly O’Toole]

A U.K. court has sentenced Erol Incedal–a law student found guilty of possessing bomb-making instructions–to 42 months in prison. The judge also ruled against lifting restrictions preventing the media from reporting on much of the information relating to the case. [BBC]

China is building a “great wall of sand” in a disputed part of the South China Sea; the artificial landmass has now reached a size of over 1.5 square miles, according to U.S. Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Harry Harris speaking in Australia.

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About the Author(s)

Ruchi Parekh

Former Associate Editor at Just Security Follow her on Twitter (@RParekh88).

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security