The Early Edition: February 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

Syria’s shaky ceasefire. The second day of a partial Syria ceasefire witnessed violence yesterday, with a number of airstrikes and artillery attacks and both sides blaming the other of violating the truce agreement. Saturday had seen a lull in fighting. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]  Anti-government activists accused the Syrian regime and Russian allies of escalating air attacks on rebel-held territory, with reports of at least 10 civilians killed in an airstrike targeting a town in Aleppo province. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim and Dana Ballout]  Russia’s defense ministry provided no statement on the strikes. [Washington Post’s Liz Sly]

The Syria ceasefire task force will meet today at 3pm in Geneva, as France demands answers over violations of the ceasefire that came into effect on Friday night. [Reuters]  And NATO’s secretary general said the bloc is concerned about Russian military build-up in Syria, despite some “encouraging developments” indicating that the ceasefire is “largely holding.” [Reuters]

US-Russia cooperation. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke on the phone yesterday, to discuss closer cooperation between the two nations’ militaries on the ceasefire plan for Syria. The call took place at the initiative of the Russian ministry, it claimed. [Reuters]

Forces loyal to the Assad regime have reclaimed control of an important road leading to the northern city of Aleppo, following advances against ISIS, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

UN aid to besieged areas. The United Nations is prepared to begin deliveries of humanitarian aid to Syrians living in areas under siege, seeking to take advantage of the US and Russian brokered truce agreement currently underway. [BBC]  Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said at an address before the UN Human Rights Council that: “The deliberate starvation of people is unequivocally forbidden as a weapon of warfare. By extension, so are sieges, which deprive civilians of essential goods such as food.” [The Guardian’s Mark Tran]

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomed the ceasefire agreement yesterday, while stressing that any cessation of hostilities in Syria must address Israeli interests and must include a halt to “Iranian aggression against Israel from Syrian territory.” [Haaretz’s Barak Ravid; New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

A twin suicide bomb attack in a Shi’ite neighborhood in Baghdad, Iraq yesterday has left at least 70 people dead, with over 100 wounded, according to police, medics and morgue sources. [Reuters]  The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. [New York Times’ Omar Al-Jawoshy]

President Obama discussed the global campaign to degrade and destroy the Islamic State, in his weekly address. The president noted that the coalition “continues to grow stronger” and that it “continues to destroy ISIL forces,” adding however that “the only way to deal ISIL a lasting defeat is to end the civil war and chaos in Syria upon which ISIL thrives.” Full transcript and video available.

“ISIS defectors: why they sometimes walk free,” from Charlie Winter and Mia Bloom at CNN.

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out 12 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Feb. 28. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 12 strikes on targets in Iraq. [DoD News]

SURVEILLANCE, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Apple v. FBI. At least 25 major tech firms, media organizations and civil liberties groups, including Microsoft, Verizon, Facebook, Google and Amazon, are filing legal briefs this week to support Apple’s attempts to prevent the American government from compelling it to unblock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The level of support for the tech giant has been described as unparalleled by those involved, reports Ellen Nakashima. [Washington Post]

“CEO Tim Cook’s test case for Apple is rotten to the core,” argues L. Gordon Crovitz, opining that rather than assuming that our “technologies raise unique issues,” cell phones are instead “best considered the latest evolution in the communications revolution that began with the telegraph and continued with the telephone.” [Wall Street Journal]

US-EU spying pact. Washington agreed to provide a clear explanation of the uses of information collected in bulk about European citizens, in order to prevent its “indiscriminate” and “arbitrary” use, following the conclusion of the new Privacy Shield framework with the EU earlier this month. Reuters’ Julia Fioretti provides the details on the agreement which replaces the Safe Harbor pact struck down by the EU’s top court last year.

Microsoft is bolstering its cyberattack defenses, opening a new Cyber Defense Operations Center in November, part of efforts to reassure customers that it is taking sufficient action to protect from hacks. The tech giant spent $1 billion on security in 2015. [Wall Street Journal’s Jay Greene]

House Republicans are coming under pressure to take up an email privacy bill that has been delayed for years, despite broad consensus in Congress that the government should be required to obtain a warrant before approaching tech companies for copies of emails. Mario Trujillo provides the details. [The Hill]

GUANTANAMO BAY

Democratic Senate candidates are distancing themselves from President Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo Bay, citing national security issues or simply avoiding the issue altogether. [The Hill’s Jordain Carney]

Afghani detainee Haj Hamdullah has been approved for release by the Guantánamo parole board, which found a “lack of clear information regarding his involvement with al-Qaida or the Taliban.” After over a decade in detention, he will be released into a Muslim country other than Afghanistan or Pakistan. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

A “new, leaner basic tour” is being offered to journalists visiting Guantánamo Bay following a four-month embargo. Journalists are no longer allowed to access many parts of the detention center, or to interview guards. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

Lawyers have urged the judge not to lift a year-old order authorizing only male guards to touch Guantánamo detainee Khalid Sheik Mohammed and four others accused of planning the 9/11 attacks. They argued during the 9/11 pre-trial hearings that the detainees’ “religious sentiment” forbade female touching and that moreover the experience would re-traumatize them following experiences of torture in the presence of women at the hands of the CIA. The judge did not rule on the issue. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

LIBYA

An airstrike has targeted an Islamic State convoy in northwestern Libya. Neither US nor Libyan forces have claimed responsibility for the attack, on Sunday, and it is not clear whether the convoy was actually hit. [Reuters]

Her “moment of greatest influence” is “a working portrait rich with evidence of what kind of president she might be.” Part One: Jo Becker and Scott Shane examine former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s persuasiveness on the question of bombing Colonel Qaddafi’s forces during the Arab Spring. [New York Times]  Part Two: “We came, we saw, he died!” Qaddafi’s fall, which appeared to vindicate Clinton at first, left a vacuum in which death and violence, and ultimately Islamic State, has flourished. [New York Times]

AFGHANISTAN

Two terrorist bomb attacks have left at least 27 dead in Kabul, Afghanistan. Both attacks took place on Saturday. The Taliban have claimed responsibility. [Washington Post’s Mohammad Sharif]  The UN has reminded all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan that they must uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law, which condemns the indiscriminate use of explosives in civilian areas. [UN News Centre]

Engaging Taliban commanders in negotiations: General Abdul Jabar Qaharaman is once more the Afghan government commander of Lashkar Gah, having previously held that office in 1993, when mujahedeen guerrillas took over the city and forced him to leave. Now, as then, he believes that fighting is not the solution, reports Mujib Mashal. [New York Times]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Two 13-year-old Arab-Israeli girls have been charged with attempted murder and other offences. They allegedly stabbed an Israeli security guard on February 4. [NBC News’ Paul Goldman]

A Palestinian who was shot on Friday as he attempted to stab Israeli troops was a US citizen, identified as 17-year-old Mahmoud Shaalan. [Fox News]

A “two-state solution” is the only way of attaining peace between Israel and Palestine, says Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition in Israel’s Knesset, who introduced an interim plan last month calling for “immediate political and security measures, namely, the separation of Israelis and Palestinians,” in order to lay the ground for productive negotiations. [New York Times]

NORTH KOREA

There are “many reasons do doubt” the efficacy of the latest UN sanctions against North Korea. The draft Security Council resolution contains numerous “loopholes and oversights,” including a failure to take into account Chinese oil transfers, which sustain Kim Jong-un’s regime. [Wall Street Journal]

Otto F Warmbier, A US student detained in North Korea last month, has appeared on state television. At a news conference, he apologised for committing the “hostile act” of which he is accused: trying to steal an item of propaganda from a hotel. It is not clear whether the statement, in which Warmbier asserted that the crime was “very severe and pre-planned” and that he was encouraged to commit it by the US administration and the CIA, was made voluntarily. [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun; BBC]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his friend Ibragim Todashev passed the US citizenship test three months before the attack, papers released by the Department of Homeland Security have revealed. US Citizenship and Immigration Services released a statement yesterday confirming that they had “found no errors in the processing” of the applications. [The Hill’s Cyra Master]

“The American armed forces would refuse to act” if Donald Trump became president and tried to order the torture of suspected terrorists and the deaths of their families. Former CIA director Michael Hayden, speaking on Friday’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” expressed deep concern about Trump’s campaign rhetoric. [Washington Post’s Peter Holley; The Hill’s Sylvan Lane]

The “most extensive survey yet” has found that far-right terrorists are “more lethal, almost as numerous, and much harder to detect” than Islamist plotters in Europe. The report, by experts from the Royal United Services Institute, Chatham House, the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, also reveals that Britain has been the target of by far the most planned terrorist attacks of any European country. [The Guardian’s Ben Quinn and Shiv Malik]

A year after the murder of Boris Nemtsov, his colleagues in Parnas, the democratic opposition party in Russia, are being threatened and attacked. Ellen Bork and David J Kramer argue that, whether President Putin is behind it or otherwise, the Obama administration needs to step in put pressure on him to make it stop. [Washington Post]

Hundreds of hostages from the Nigerian town of Kumshe have been rescued from Boko Haram by Cameroonian and Nigerian forces. Around 100 militants were killed during the operation. [AP]

Two restaurants were bombed in Baidoa, Somalia, on Sunday. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attacks, claiming that they “targeted government officials and forces.” Another car bomb killed 14 people in Mogadishu last Friday, police have said. [New York Times’ Mohammed Ibrahim; Al Jazeera]

An airstrike in Yemen on Saturday killed at least 30 people.  It is not clear who carried out the strike. [BBC]  The UN has called for an immediate investigation. [UN News Centre]

China plans to build a naval base in the Obock region of Somalia, and a railroad to connect Somalia’s capital with Ethiopia’s. Chinese officials have said that the base will be a logistics and supply center, yet its location has “major strategic significance” and points to China’s intentions to expand its global reach, according to Brendon Hong. [The Daily Beast]

Questioning the policy of regime change in the Middle East. Debaters consider the question of whether failures in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan demand a new approach to US intervention. [New York Times]

Editor’s note: This post was updated earlier this morning to reflect the fact that Ibragim Todashev was a friend of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, not a bomber. The first version of this post did not make that clear. Just Security regrets the error. 

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About the Author(s)

Nadia O'Mara

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security

Zoë Chapman

Former Assistant News Editor at Just Security, Legal Researcher at UK-based human rights organization, JUSTICE