News Roundup and Notes: January 29, 2016

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

The Syrian opposition insists it will not attend negotiations on a political solution to the civil conflict due to begin today in Geneva, saying that it had not received satisfactory answers to its conditions, including an end to air strikes and blockades. [Reuters]

UN Special Envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura said he will proceed with “proximity” talks with the Syrian government today, and will later arrange to meet the other parties. [Reuters]  These talks are intended to take place over six months, “shuttling between” the two sides as there is insufficient common ground for them to sit together “without an immediate collapse,” reports Ian Black. [The Guardian] 

Ahead of the Geneva peace talks, Mr de Mistura addressed all Syrians in a video recording, saying that “we are not going to disappoint you from the UN point of view. You know we will never abandon the Syrian people.” [UN News Centre] 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has rejected calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, reducing hopes that Tehran’s improved relations with the West would assist in finding common ground on the Syria crisis. [Wall Street Journal’s Matthew Dalton and Stacy Meichtry]

The Guardian editorial board comments on the peace talks, opining that: “Talks for the sake of talks may give an illusion of progress but they come at a high price for Syrians, and western security too. Fake diplomacy is no diplomacy.”

Hundreds more trainers, advisers and commandos from America and allied nations will be needed in Iraq and Syria in order to defeat the Islamic State, says Pentagon officials. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Helene Cooper] 

A service member from the Coalition fighting the Islamic State has died, Central Command reporting that the death occurred in a non-combat related incident in Iraq. No further information has been provided.

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Canadian intelligence services breached privacy laws by collecting citizens’ private information and passing it on to its intelligence partner-countries, including the NSA, the Canadian government confirmed. Officials were unable to say how many individuals have been affected [VICE’s Justin Ling]  The Canadian government has halted certain communications intelligence sharing until it is “satisfied that proper protections are in place.” [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

The UK’s GCHQ and the NSA have intercepted live video feeds from Israeli drones and fighter jets flying over military operations in Gaza. The videos disclose evidence that supports reports that the Israeli’s arm their drones, something they have consistently denied. [The Intercept’s Cora Currier and Henrik Moltke]

The Economist comments on the Hailstorm version of the StingRay surveillance device, and recent movements in the courts toward preventing the use of evidence obtained in this manner.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS 

An EgyptAir mechanic is suspected of planting an explosive device on a Russian MetroJet plane at Sharm el-Sheikh airport in October. The mechanic’s cousin joined the Islamic State. Egyptian officials have not publicly stated that there is evidence to support the claim that the flight was downed by terrorism. [Reuters]

Lt. Gen John Nicholson, nominated to be the new commander in Afghanistan, has cautioned against withdrawing troops from Afghanistan unless conditions allow for it. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Gen. Nicholsen noted the worsening security in the country. [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold] Paul McLeary comments on the security situation, observing that the Taliban holds more territory than any time since 2001, the Islamic State is expanding its foothold and al-Qaeda has reestablished training camps. [Foreign Policy]

Top national security advisers gathered at the White House yesterday to deliberate over increasing military action against the Islamic State. Although the possibility of operations in Libya was discussed, Defense Secretary Ash Carter informed reporters that they “haven’t made any decisions to take military action there.” [Wall Street Journal’s Gordon Lubold]

Seven Palestinian Hamas fighters were killed while repairing a tunnel used for attacks against Israeli forces during last summer’s Gaza war. [New York Times’ Majd Al Waheidi]

A car bomb exploded outside the presidential palace in Aden, Yemen, on Thursday; a group associated with the Islamic State claiming responsibility for the attack. President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi was inside the building at the time, but was not harmed. At least eight people were killed. [New York Times’ Saeed Al-Batati; Al Jazeera]

Nearly two million Libyans are in need of urgent medical attention, according to the World Health Organization, which warns that there is no time to wait for a political solution. [UN News Centre]

Authorities in Burundi have arrested 17 people, including a French and British journalist in the capital, Bujumbura following a police raid yesterday. [Al Jazeera]

The UK’s Royal Navy faces tens of millions of pounds in repair costs to fit new engines in its modern war ships, which have experienced frequent “total electrical failures” since they came into operation. [BBC’s Jonathan Beale]

A more “family-friendly” military: US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has announced a number of new measures designed to improve quality of life for military personnel, including a doubling of maternity leave. [The Washington Post’s Missy Ryan; The Daily Beast’s Nancy A Youssef] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security