News Roundup and Notes: August 27, 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

ISIS has seized five villages from Syrian rebels in northern Syria, gaining territory in an area where the US and Turkey intend to open a new front against the Islamist group. [Reuters]

A new 48-hour ceasefire has been agreed to by Syrian rebel forces and government troops to halt fighting in the western town of Zabadani. [Al Jazeera]

A British hacker for the Islamic State has died following a US airstrike in Syria, officials told the Guardian. The man, who fought under the non de guerre Abu Hussain al-Britani, was considered the second-most prominent UK citizen to join ISIS after the man known as “Jihadi John,” reports Spencer Ackerman.

The commander of a US-backed Syrian rebel group was killed by a car bomb yesterday in the Turkish city of Antakya. There was no immediate claim of responsibility. [Wall Street Journal’s Ayla Albayrak and Mohammed Nour Al Akraa]

US terrorism analysts have been “inappropriately pressured” by senior military and intelligence officials to present data about the fight against the Islamic State in positive terms, three sources familiar with the subject told The Daily Beast, report Shane Harris and Nancy A. Youssef.

Experts and medical professionals have given testimony which further supports claims that the Islamic State used a chemical agent – most likely mustard gas – in an attack on civilians in a town close to Aleppo last Friday. [The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen and Spencer Ackerman]

Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad makes concerted efforts to persuade his people that the country will remain normal as long as he is in control, despite suffering growing losses, an approach which has proven “indispensable” to the regime. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and partner nations carried out two airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Syria on August 26. Separately, military forces conducted a further 18 strikes on targets in Iraq. [DoD News]

US art dealers have been warned by the FBI to take care when purchasing antiquities from the Middle East, citing recent reports that collectors have been offered artifacts plundered by ISIS. [Reuters]

Sir John Chilcot has defended his long-delayed Iraq war inquiry, suggesting that the British government is partly to blame, though still failed to set a publication date, in a new statement. [The Guardian’s Ewen MacAskill and Richard Norton-Taylor]

The New York Times editorial board discusses the Islamic State’s crimes in Palmyra, concluding that “however daunting the struggles of the Middle East, ISIS stands out in the threat it poses to humanity.”

“Jihadi Trails: The Circuitous Routes Foreigners Take to Syria and Iraq;” profiles hosted at the Wall Street Journal.

IRAN

Sen Bob Corker said it is “very unlikely that [the GOP will] have a veto-proof majority to disapprove” the Iran nuclear deal, in light of growing support from Senate Democrats, in an interview with The Tennessean.

Sen Susan Collins is the final undecided Republican on the deal, Obama’s “last remaining hope” for a vote of confidence from a GOP lawmaker, reports Julian Hattem. [The Hill]

The nuclear accord is becoming an “early campaign flash point” for the fight for control of the Senate in 2016, reports Burgess Everett, noting that it is rare for a foreign policy debate to take center stage in Congressional races, at Politico.

Tehran accused the US of holding 19 Iranian citizens on what the foreign ministry described as unfounded charges of sanctions violations, calling for their release. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton conceded that she should have used two email accounts while in office yesterday, taking on a “more conciliatory tone” than some previous statements, reports Laura Meckler. [Wall Street Journal]  And a document review by the AP has shown that State Department officials routinely shared secret information through unsecured email servers before Clinton took office.

Seven Ukrainian soldiers have been killed and 13 have been wounded during fighting with pro-Russian separatists over the past 24 hours, a military spokesperson said today. [Reuters]

The man suspected of masterminding the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing that killed 19 American airmen in Saudi Arabia has been arrested by authorities there, Asharq Al-Awsat reports.  And King Salman plans to visit the White House next week, his first trip since ascending to the throne, Saudi officials said. [New York Times’ Gardiner Harris]

Pakistan may have the world’s third biggest nuclear arsenal within a decade, according to a new report by two American think tanks, which asserts that Islamabad may be building 20 nuclear warheads annually. [Washington Post’s Tim Craig]

The president of South Sudan has signed a peace deal designed to end the conflict with rebels there. Salva Kiir, who drew threats of UN sanctions due to his delay in signing the accord, expressed “serious reservations” to regional African leaders over the document. [Reuters]

The US will support Sri Lanka’s government in its efforts to investigate alleged war crimes, announcing that it will sponsor a joint resolution at next month’s UN human rights session. [AP’s Krishan Francis]

Egypt is in talks to purchase a pair of warships which France originally built for Russia but refused to deliver following Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in Ukraine, French officials said yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton]  And two police officers were killed by gunmen in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula yesterday. [AP]

Palestinians want to raise their flag at the UN next month, a move which could spark diplomatic conflict in the General Assembly. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

President Obama will “no doubt” raise concerns about cybersecurity when he meets with Chinese President Xi Jinping next month, the White House said. [Reuters]

The UN Security Council has called for parties to the Libyan conflict to make a “final push” because “time is running out” for leaders as the UN-backed political dialogue enters its final stages. [UN News Centre]

The New York Times editorial board analyzes the de-escalation of tensions between the Koreas, describing the decision to back away from confrontation as “wise.”  And Stephen Haggard takes a “forensic look” at the deal struck between North and South Korea, considering what it really means, at the Guardian. 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security