News Roundup and Notes: February 1, 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

Peace talks crept forward over the weekend, the Syrian opposition group, the High Negotiations Committee, arriving in Geneva and meeting with a UN mediator. [New York Times’ Anne Bernard and Somini Sengupta]  One of the main concerns voiced by the opposition group is the need for the government to take action to improve the situation for Syrians during the negotiations, including the “release of prisoners, or for instance some lifting of sieges.” [UN News Centre]

The High Negotiations Committee has given a “positive response” to a proposal put forward by UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura. The opposition say they have received reassurances on humanitarian issues from international backers. [Reuters]

War crimes and crimes against humanity should not be covered by any amnesty linked to ending the civil war, said Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the chief UN human rights official speaking today in Geneva. [Reuters]

Turkey and Saudi Arabia expressed their support for the Syrian opposition group yesterday, while minimizing their roles in setting the agenda for the talks. [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran and Sam Dagher]

A suicide attack in Damascus yesterday killed at least 70 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. [Reuters]  The attack was one of the worst to take place in a government-controlled area of the capital, and served as “another vicious and bloody reminder of what is at stake” in the Geneva peace negotiations, reports Ian Black. [The Guardian]

The Wall Street Journal editorial board describes the Syria peace talks as “phony,” opining that a “plausible solution isn’t possible as long as Islamic State controls much of the country and the Assad regime feels free with Russian help to force Syrians into exile with barrel bombs and hunger sieges.”

President Obama’s special envoy to the anti-ISIS coalition visited Syria over the weekend; the visit by Brett McGurk, rare for a US official, was to meet with the Kurds who are battling ISIS there. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]

A new Islamic State video features a blond-haired Frenchman who threatens new terror attacks across the West. [The Guardian’s Kim Willsher]

Iraq is facing “economic calamity,” struggling to pay for an expensive war against ISIS and suffering under collapsed oil prices, reports Tim Arango. [New York Times]

YEMEN

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has launched an investigation into its air campaign; the coalition has been accused of perpetrating war crimes by some observers. [New York Times’ Rick Gladstone]  The coalition has asserted that some reports on civilian deaths are “categorically baseless,” but admitted that it had “made mistakes.” [Wall Street Journal’s Ahmed Al Omran and Asa Fitch]

Al-Qaida gunmen have taken a town in Southern Yemen, according to security officials. [AP]

ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

A Palestinian policeman has been killed after he attacked and shot three Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint. The incident was unusual in that it was carried out by a Palestinian official using a firearm; most recent attacks on Israelis have been with knives. [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger]

Another attacker was shot dead by Israeli soldiers following an attempted stabbing today, this time near the Israeli settlement, Salit. No Israelis were killed. [Reuters]

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide attack outside of a police station in western Kabul has left at least 10 people dead and 20 more injured today. The attack is the latest of a string to target the capital this year as the central government attempts to revive the peace process with the Taliban. [Reuters]

The US has conducted at least a dozen operations against ISIS-affiliated militants in Afghanistan over the past three weeks, including commando raids and airstrikes, a sign of Obama’s decision to expand the campaign against ISIS beyond Iraq and Syria. [New York Times’ Michael S. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Medals were awarded by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, to the navy commanders who captured American soldiers after they entered Iranian waters last month, the country’s state media reported. [Reuters]

The CIA has “intentionally deceived” its own workforce for years, in a process known as “eyewash” that involves sending fake communications via its normal channels. The practice has garnered recent criticism from officials, who say that there is “no clear mechanism” for differentiating between the eyewash cables and genuine information. [Washington Post’s Greg Miller and Adam Goldman]

The US government is unable to confirm whether reports that nine US citizens have been detained in Saudi Arabia on terrorism charges are true; officials are “still checking names against databases.” Saudi Arabia has detained hundreds of Islamic State supporters since 2014. [Reuters]

The UK’s investigatory powers bill has left “many MPs and technology experts baffled.” A “highly critical” report produced by a House of Commons committee has raised concerns that the bill, which is being rushed through Parliament, lacks clarity, for instance as to the extent to which “internet connection records” will be collected. [The Guardian’s Owen Bowcott]

Almost one million euros a day is being spent by France on anti-terrorism measures, signaling a departure from the country’s “austerity mantra.” This change in attitude to fiscal policy is reflected throughout Europe, as it recognizes the need for a more flexible approach that will “give them the financial firepower to counter the terrorist threat.” [New York Times’ Liz Alderman]

France will officially withdraw its troops from the Central African Republic this year, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has announced. The French army were originally deployed there in December 2013. “Some troops” will remain once the mission has ended. [Wall Street Journal’s William Horobin]

Boko Haram has been accused of conducting village raids in northeastern Nigeria on Saturday, which resulted in the deaths of dozens of villagers. [New York Times’ Sunday Isuwa and Dionne Searcey] The death toll currently stands at over 80, including children. [The Guardian; Al Jazeera] 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security