The Early Edition: May 4, 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 hospital strikes. A Syrian insurgent strike on government-controlled parts of Aleppo yesterday killed as many as 19 people, according to Syrian state media and activists. The attacks included a fatal attack on a maternity hospital. It was the sixth attack on a medical facility in the city in under a week. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard; Washington Post’s Erin Cunningham]  The UN Security Council has condemned strikes on health workers in conflict zones, including Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan, adopting a resolution to strengthen available protections. [New York Times’ Somini Sengupta]

“Both sides have shown increasing disregard for international law that says attacks on civilians and medical facilities are war crimes.” The New York Times editorial board comments on the ongoing situation in Syria, warning that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry must be willing to put adequate pressure on Russia to “do what is needed to stop the bloodshed.”

Dozens have been killed during fighting between government and rebel forces in western Aleppo, with violence continuing into today, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]

Ceasefire agreement. Airstrikes hit a rebel-controlled part of eastern Damascus today, following the expiration of an agreement aimed at stopping fighting there at midnight, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Reuters]  And the situation in Latakia, Aleppo and Damascus is still “partially tense” today, reported the RIA news agency quoting Russia’s General Sergei Kuralenko. [Reuters]

Assad’s strategy of seeking military gains will not bring the conflict in Syria to an end, warned Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday, adding that there would be “repercussions” if the regime continued to openly disregard the ceasefire agreement reached in February. [BBC]

The US is meeting with defense ministers from 11 nations today for talks on how to strengthen the global coalition against Islamic State, held at the European Command headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. [Reuters]

Turkey fired into an Islamic State-controlled region of Syria today in retaliation for a rocket attack which hit the border town of Kilis. [Reuters’ Seyhmus Cakan and Seda Sezer]

A US Navy SEAL killed during an ISIS attack yesterday has been identified; Charlie Keating IV, the grandson of Arizona financier Charles Keating, was killed after Islamic State militants north of Mosul fought through a front line of Kurdish peshmerga forces. Loveday Morris et al report. [Washington Post]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition military forces carried out four airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on May 2. Partner forces conducted a further 25 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

“The internecine fighting among Shias requires a deal with Tehran and Ayatollah Sistani.” Zalmay Khalilzad explains why the US needs Iran to assist in solving the escalating political crisis in Iraq. [Politico Magazine]

The Washington Post editorial board comments on the Obama administration’s “Iraq delusion,” noting that “two persistent failings” of American foreign policy have been “an over-dependence on individual leaders, who frequently fail to deliver on American expectations and a reluctance to accept that an established status quo can’t hold.”

YEMEN

UN-backed peace talks aimed at ending the war in Yemen will resume today, following their suspension by the Yemeni government in protest of a Houthi attack on a military base in Sana’a this weekend. [Reuters]

The UK government’s suggestion that the Saudi-led air campaign in Yemen has not violated international humanitarian law is “deeply disappointing,” and adds to an “anything goes” attitude from the two sides to the conflict, according to a parliamentary international development select committee. [The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

The CIA and NSA doubled the number of searches conducted without warrants on US citizens’ data between 2013 and 2015, according to a new report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

“We are witnessing a compression of the timeframe in which unconstitutional activities can continue before they are exposed by acts of conscience.” Edward Snowden provides the foreword to The Assassination Complex, a new book about drone warfare from Jeremy Scahill. [The Guardian]

GUANTANAMO BAY

The pace of review boards for Guantánamo Bay prisoners has been “quietly” increased by the Obama administration since mid-April. Currently there are around two review boards each week, whereas earlier this year they were being convened at a rate of around two to three per month, reports Kristina Wong. [The Hill]

A Navy nurse who was discharged for refusing to force-feed protesting detainees at Guantánamo Bay has been reinstated.  Discharged in the summer of 2014, his case was something of a “cause célèbre” at the time. He is currently serving at a Navy medical facility in New England. [Miami Herald’s Carol Rosenberg]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Israeli man convicted of being the ringleader of a gang which abducted and murdered a Palestinian teenager in 2014 has been sentenced to life in prison with an additional 2 years, the judge rejecting his insanity plea. [Washington Post’s William Booth; New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

“Violence that becomes part of the scenery is just as dangerous as when it first grabs headlines.” Jeremy Bowen reports on the “deadly atmosphere” between Israelis and Palestinians, spawning attacks with such regularity that they have come to seem “almost routine,” except for the people directly involved. [BBC]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made improving Japan-Russia relations “a pillar of his diplomatic policy,” says Mitsuro Obe, citing the fact that he is due to make his 13th visit to Russia in recent years today, compared with only nine meetings between Abe and President Obama. [Wall Street Journal]

The meeting between the Japanese and Russian leaders is not likely to result in “imminent and serious progress” over the “sensitive” topic of the disputed Kurile Islands, the cause of strained relations between the two nations since World War Two.  In fact, the dispute is so serious that Moscow and Tokyo have yet to sign a formal peace treaty. [Reuters’ Dmitry Solovyov]

Pakistan’s army chief has signed off on death sentences for 11 Taliban members convicted of terrorism, kidnappings and other offenses. Pakistan reintroduced the death penalty following an attack on a school in Peshawar in late 2014, which resulted in the deaths of over 150 people, mostly children. [AP’s Asif Shahzad]

A court in Albania has sentenced nine men for recruiting over 70 individuals to join Islamic extremist groups in Syria and Iraq. [AP]

It is dangerous to assume that Saudi Arabia and Iran think the same way as the US, write Henry A Crumpton and Allison Melia. Ascribing US values of tolerance, rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, and separation of church and state, masks the fact that, for Saudi Arabia and Iran, “religion is their political ideology – and a critical element of their foreign policy.” [Wall Street Journal]

The deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz to the US and its allies if they “threaten” the Islamic Republic, according to Iranian state media. [AP’s Amir Vahdat]

Russia is creating three new divisions to oppose NATO’s intended expansion along its eastern border, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said today. [Wall Street Journal’s Thomas Grove]

“As much as his neo-isolationism frightens our allies, it is Mr Trump’s anti-establishment stance that most threatens international security,” writes Evan Thomas, suggesting that a “foreign policy elite” – highly trained corps of diplomats, financiers and academics – is vital to navigate the US’ stance as a global power. [New York Times]

The FBI has still not contacted former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in relation to her use of a private email server while in office, Clinton has confirmed. The FBI formally announced it would be investigating Clinton’s email server in February. [The Hill’s Mark Hensch] 

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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