The Early Edition: April 20, 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 ceasefire collapses. Government warplanes conducted heavy airstrikes on a busy market in Maarat al-Numan in Idlib province yesterday, killing dozens of people. The attack appeared to mark the end of peace negotiations in Geneva, the main opposition High Negotiations Committee saying the truce was finished and it would stay out of talks indefinitely. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard; Reuters’ John Irish and Tom Perry; Wall Street Journal’s Nour Malas and Sam Dagher]

The Washington Post editorial board criticizes the White House for “prop[ping] up” a “sham ceasefire” in Syria, commenting that the cessation of hostilities is “dead but lives on in the otherworldly rhetoric of its promoters, headed by the Obama administration.”

Turkish forces killed 32 suspected ISIS fighters yesterday in the Bashiqa region of northern Iraq, following an attack on a Turkish tank at a military base there, according to broadcaster CNN Turk. [Reuters] 

The Islamic State gained territory from the Syrian government yesterday, following fierce fighting for control of the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters] 

US lawmakers Rep Barbara Lee and Sen John McCain are concerned that President Obama’s decision to deploy additional American troops to Iraq is mission creep. Kristina Wong reports. [The Hill]

The family of Steven Sotloff are suing the Syrian government in an American court. Sotloff was kidnapped and killed by ISIS in 2014; his family are claiming that the Assad regime provided support to the militants that beheaded Sotloff. [AP]

US-led airstrikes continue. The US and coalition military forces carried out one strike against Islamic State targets in Syria on April 18. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 17 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

SAUDI ARABIA 

President Obama arrives in Saudi Arabia today, part of a three nation tour including the UK and Germany, that comes at a time of friction between the US and allies. Michael Crowley reports that: “Obama will be doing little more than a little damage control.” [Politico] Frank Gardner at the BBC reports that the US decision to lift sanctions against Riyadh’s rival Iran is a key cause of damaged relations.

“But American arms transfers to Saudi Arabia are questionable not only on human rights grounds. They also have negative strategic consequences.” William D. Hartung makes the case for why Obama shouldn’t “trade cluster bombs” for Riyadh’s friendship, at the New York Times.

Terror legislation bill. Multiple Democratic lawmakers suggested they would support legislation that would allow 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia, defying President Obama’s position on the bill. [Politico’s Seung Min Kim] And Republic Senator Lindsey Graham has said that he would drop his opposition to the bill and consider supporting it; Graham said his support was contingent upon changes to the bill, which he did not elucidate upon. [New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti and Jennifer Steinhauer]

The Pentagon has expressed concerns over the legislation, one defense official saying that “we don’t need this debate right now.” [The Daily Beast’s Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris]

EUROPEAN TERROR THREAT

The “fusion center” is a new group supported by the EU, designed to synthesize information from across the continent’s bureaucracies in order to create an “early-warning system” that will help to detect threats from “hybrid warfare” and may help to prevent terrorism. [Wall Street Journal’s Julian E Barnes]

France intends to extend the “state of emergency” in place since the November Paris attacks to cover the Euro 2016 soccer tournament, due to take place from June 10. The powers originate from the Algerian war in the 1950s, and allow police to conduct house raids and searches without warrants or judicial oversight. [The Guardian’s Angelique Chrisafis; Reuters]

Islamic State is planning to attack tourists at beach resorts throughout Europe this summer, according to German newspaper Bild, which cited Italian security forces. [Fox News]

A million UK workers are due to be trained to deal with terror attacks over the next year, the National Police Chiefs Council will announce shortly. This is an extension of a current program which sees around 100,000 of those who work in densely populated areas being trained each year. [BBC]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Outside coordination with Islamic State supporters has been “ruled out” by the data discovered on the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters, according to US law enforcement officials. Hacking the phone has also revealed that its owner did not use encrypted communications. [CNN’s Evan Perez et al]

The FBI needs to work with hackers as tech companies become evermore resistant to its demands for consumers’ information, its executive assistant director for science and technology informed lawmakers debating potential encryption legislation yesterday. [New York Times’ Cecilia Kang and Eric Lichtblau]  NPR’s Renee Montagne has spoken to former director of cybersecurity policy for the National Security Council, Robert Knake about the “complex relationships between technology companies, professional hackers and the government.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued the Department of Justice in an effort to acquire any orders sought or obtained by the DoJ from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court which force tech companies to decrypt user communications. [Reuters’ Dan Levine]

Apple has been asked for its source code by China in the past two years but refused to provide it, the company’s main lawyer informed lawmakers yesterday, responding to criticism of its position on technology security. [Reuters’ Dustin Volz]

The FBI and the NSA have failed to delete data collected about people on the internet in violation of “several provisions” of its internal policies, according to an opinion from the federal court overseeing US intelligence agencies, declassified yesterday. [The Hill’s Julian Hattem]  The omissions have made the judge overseeing government surveillance programs “extremely concerned” about what the two intelligence agencies referred to as “compliance incidents.” [Politico’s Josh Gerstein]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The White House defended Vice President Joe Biden’s critical comments about Israel made on Monday, Press Secretary Josh Earnest insisting that Israel is the US’s strongest ally in the Middle East and that the two nations’ relationship is able to accommodate disagreements on “some critically important policy issues.” [Politico’s Nick Gass; The Hill’s Jordan Fabian]

“A new kind of terror.” Saer, West Bank, has produced more Palestinians who have attacked Israeli guards than any other town during the surge of violence over the past six months. William Booth reports on the legacy of those “frustrated ‘lone wolves’.” [Washington Post]

Israel’s Tourism Ministry has released a “distorted” map of the old city of Jerusalem, showing 57 Jewish locations but only one Muslim. Those responsible for this “one-sided map” have been “caught red-handed trying to forge history,” says Daoud Kuttab. [Al Jazeera]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Prison guards at Guantánamo Bay delivered a Yemeni “forever prisoner” to the wrong cell prior to his parole board hearing, causing him such distress that he was unable to present himself properly, his advocate has written in a filing released yesterday.

Yesterday’s terror attack in Kabul serves as a “bloody reminder” that the war in Afghanistan is “spiralling to new levels of violence,” writes Emma Graham-Harrison, noting that urban areas that were once considered reasonably safe now the scene of fighting. [The Guardian]  The death toll following al-Qaeda’s suicide bomb and gun attack in Kabul yesterday has risen to 64. [BBC]

Secretary of State John Kerry met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss ways to make sure the nuclear deal is implemented as originally intended yesterday, Kerry stating afterward that they had “worked out a number of key things” and “achieved progress” and that they will meet again on Friday. [Reuters]

The US imposed sanctions on Khalifa al-Ghweil, the leader of the self-styled government of Tripoli, in an effort to compel acceptance of the UN-backed unity government among Libya’s opposing parties, yesterday. [New York Times’ Declan Walsh]

Clusters of the 276 schoolgirls abducted by Boko Haram two years ago have been sighted “on several occasions” since, US officials have said, but rescue operations have not been performed out of fear that resultant battles with the terrorist captors would put the girls at risk. [New York Times’ Helene Cooper]

Delegates from the Houthi movement and the party of ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh have said they will travel to Kuwait today to take part in the UN-backed peace talks that were due to begin two days ago. [Reuters]

Cuba’s Communist party has re-elected Raúl Castro, despite the fact that Castro himself has made “generation change a priority,” reports Marc Frank, speaking to a Cuba expert, who suggests that the decision is intended to send the message that “nothing changes” despite the recent easing of relations with the US. [Financial Times]  As the announcement was made, Raúl’s brother and revolutionary leader Fidel Castro delivered a rare speech, urging party members to preserve his ideas into the future. [AP’s Michael Weissenstein]

A fifth nuclear test by North Korea could trigger further UN Security Council sanctions, a US diplomat for the Asia-Pacific region told reporters yesterday. [Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed and David Brunnstrom] 

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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