News Roundup and Notes: April 10, 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.

YEMEN

Saudi-led airstrikes continue. Southern Yemen was “battered” overnight with the most intense strikes since the start of the air campaign against Houthi rebels, say officials and residents. [AFP]  Strikes this morning in Sana’a targeted weapons storage facilities used by fighters loyal to former president Saleh. [Reuters]

Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia on the situation in Yemen deepened yesterday. In a show of “rare vehemence,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei lashed out against the ongoing air campaign, describing the strikes as “a crime” and “genocide.” [New York Times’ David D. Kirkpatrick]

Houthi rebels committed “massacres” in Aden on Wednesday as they pushed into the center of the town, according to local residents, who accused the rebels of indiscriminate fire in residential areas. [Asharq Al-Awsat]

Pakistan’s parliament has voted in favor of remaining neutral in the Yemen conflict on the fifth day of a joint parliamentary session on the Saudi-led offensive against Houthi rebels. [Dawn]

Hamas issued a statement on the situation noting its support for political legitimacy in Yemen—failing to take a clear position on which side of the conflict it supports, but “when reading between the lines” one can interpret “tacit support” for President Hadi, writes Adnan Abu Amer. [Al Monitor]

The first two planes carrying medical aid for Yemen arrived in Sana’a today following weeks of conflict which have created a potential humanitarian disaster in the already impoverished country. [Reuters]  International shipping lines are being forced to reduce or suspend port calls to Yemen as the conflict escalates, placing pressure on a nation that imports over 90% of its food. [Reuters’ Jonathan Saul]

A third of those fighting with armed groups in the Yemen conflict are children, according to UNICEF’s representative in the country, who added concerns of increasing malnutrition levels and an expected slump in education. [Al Jazeera America]

IRAQ and SYRIA

Vice President Joe Biden cited progress by Iraqi forces in the fight against the Islamic State, saying that their advance has been “halted,” and described as the “irony of ironies” that the rise of ISIS in fact helped Iraq to form its government. [BBC]

Palestinian factions have agreed with the Syrian government to use force to drive out the Islamic State from the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus. [Al Jazeera]  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the situation in Yarmouk as the “deepest circle of hell” and called for concerted action to protect civilian lives. [UN News Centre]

The Islamic State this week killed 52 men at the al Qaim border crossing between Iraq and Syria, according to the governor of Anbar province. [CNN’s Hamdi Alkhshali and Mohammed Tawfeeq]

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. Coalition military forces carried out seven airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria between 8am April 8 and 8am April 9. Separately, military forces conducted a further 12 strikes in Iraq. [Central Command]

Twitter suspended some 10,000 accounts on April 2 “for tweeting violent threats” which, if accurate, would represent the single largest purge of accounts linked to the Islamic State, which some experts estimate has up to 90,000 affiliated accounts. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

The U.S. failure to uphold the 2010 Iraqi election results and broker the formation of a new Iraqi government sowed the “seeds of Iraq’s unraveling,” writes former adviser to the top U.S. general in Iraq, Emma Sky, suggesting that President Obama “abandoned democracy in Iraq” and left it in the hands of a “strongman.” [Politico Magazine] 

CUBA

Barack Obama and Raul Castro are expected to encounter one another during the Summit of the Americas in Panama City, marking an historic moment in restoring U.S.-Cuba relations. [AP]

Secretary of State John Kerry and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez held talks last night in Panama City, the highest-level meeting between the two nations in over 50 years. [Reuters’ Matt Spetalnick and Dave Graham]

President Obama is nearing a decision on whether to delist Cuba from the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism, the president saying yesterday that he would not make an announcement until he had received a final recommendation from his advisers. The president did not rule out making the formal announcement during the Summit of the Americas over the weekend. [New York Times’ Julie Hirschfeld Davis]

The Economist discusses the “thrill of the thaw” in U.S.-Cuba relations, suggesting that “[t]he Obama administration has craftily raised expectations to such a degree that backsliding now seems unthinkable.” 

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide car bomber targeted a convoy of American troops in eastern Afghanistan earlier today, killing three Afghan civilians, while a roadside bomb killed 10 people in a separate eastern province. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attack on the convoy. [AP’s Amir Shah]  A Taliban attack on a provincial prosecutor’s office in the country’s north yesterday lasted over six hours and left at least 10 dead and dozens wounded. [New York Times’ Mujib Mashal]

Recent abductions of ethnic Hazaras in Afghanistan’s southern province have prompted fears that a rogue Taliban bloc that has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State is responsible for the kidnappings. [Washington Post’s Sudarsan Raghavan] 

IRAN NUCLEAR DEAL

Iran’s supreme leader has called for all sanctions on Tehran to be lifted on the day of any final accord, stating yesterday that he neither backs nor opposes the deal. [Reuters’ Parisa Hafezi]  Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments, which also ruled out foreign inspection of Iran’s military sites, undermined two of the key U.S. positions in the talks, report Thomas Erdbrink and David E. Sanger. [New York Times]

A bipartisan political action committee is targeting senators who have not yet supported the Iran bill; the American Security Initiative is funding an ad campaign on the legislation that would allow Congress to weigh in on any agreement.  [Politico’s Burgess Everett and Kyle Cheney]

Sen. John McCain criticized the nuclear diplomacy in a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, stating that Secretary of State John Kerry “is delusional” on the issue. [Politico’s Nick Gass]

The Hill has a video explaining the nuclear deal, breaking down the components of the agreement.

Senate Democrats who were previously opposing the direction of the negotiations “have gone into hiding,” choosing party loyalty over national security, writes Kimberley A. Strassel in a Wall Street Journal op-ed.

The odds of a comprehensive nuclear agreement have “shortened dramatically;” The Economist notes that the differences between the two sides on many of the key issues are “more spin than substance.”

American victims of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis are looking to be compensated as part of a deal with Tehran, reports Kevin Cirilli. [The Hill]

RUSSIA and UKRAINE 

NATO tested its new rapid response force in an exercise in 11 countries this week, part of the alliance’s response to ongoing Russian aggression. [Wall Street Journal’s Naftali Bendavid]

NATO is capping the size of delegations from “partner nations” such as Russia to 30 members, a move prompted by an assessment that Russian spies had been part of the delegation from Moscow. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon]

A Russian fighter’s admission to killing 15 Ukrainian prisoners of war could provide evidence of war crimes if the recording is confirmed as authentic, according to legal experts. [Kyiv Post’s Oleg Sukhov]

Russia’s next target will be Moldova, warns the Wall Street Journal editorial board, noting yesterday’s military drill conducted by Russian troops in the Moldovan breakaway territory, Transnistria.

Ongoing Western passivity to Moscow’s aggression in eastern Ukraine will make a Russian-backed attack on Mariupol more likely, argues the Washington Post editorial board.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.S. follow-up report to the UN Human Rights Committee on progress made to implement last year’s recommendations made by the HRC comes up short; the “disappointing” 15-page submission fails to address accountability measures in the wake of the Senate report on the CIA torture program, or the need for Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor, writes ACLU’s Jamil Dakwar. [Blog of Rights]

Recent appointments have placed a significant number of intelligence industry insiders and former lobbyists for NSA contractors into key congressional positions overseeing the NSA’s intelligence collection, writes Lee Fang. [The Intercept]

North Korea fired two surface-to-air missiles off its west coast prior to Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s arrival in the region on Tuesday. The move is viewed as indicating an intent to heighten regional tension, but the country is not thought to be preparing a nuclear test or a long-range missile launch, according to the U.S. and South Korean defense ministries today. [Reuters] 

The UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticized Malaysia’s government for its proposed antiterrorism legislation, including the move to restore powers of indefinite detention without trial. [New York Times’ Nick Cumming-Bruce]

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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