The Early Edition: May 6, 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

Refugee camp airstrikes. More than 30 people were killed yesterday after warplanes targeted a camp for displaced Syrians in Idlib province in the north of the country, according to anti-regime activists and rebel groups. [New York Times’ Anne Barnard]  The US State Department has not confirmed the attack was conducted by Assad forces but said it would be “totally in keeping” with the regime’s past operations. [Wall Street Journal’s Raja Abdulrahim; The Guardian’s Kareem Shaheen]  The UN humanitarian affairs chief, Stephen O’Brien said the strike could be a war crime. [BBC]

A group of Syrian rebels and hard-line jihadists have seized a village outside Aleppo from government forces today; according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights at least 43 insurgents and 30 government forces died during the battle. [AP]

“There can be no meaningful settlement of the civil war without an elusive, enduring truce in the shelled-out remains of what was once a nation’s second city.” The Guardian editorial board gives its view on the situation Syria, noting that the “fate” of that nation could “hinge” on Aleppo.

Russian and American officials face deadlock over the future of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, following months of “tedious negotiations and haggling over ceasefire deals.” Erika Solomon and Geoff Dyer have the story at the Financial Times.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition airstrikes carried out three airstrikes against Islamic State targets on May 4. Separately, partner forces conducted a further 15 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

The attack which killed a US Navy SEAL this week was a surprise, according to Pentagon spokesman Peter Cook speaking yesterday, noting that if anticipated it may have ended differently. [AP’s Robert Burns]  Amateur footage has emerged which purports to show the gun battle which resulted in the death of Special Warfare Operator First Class Charles H Keating IV. [The Guardian’s Fazel Hawramy and Spencer Ackerman]

“The fate of Syria’s moderate rebels is critical to American efforts in the region.” Sam Dagher discusses the “agonizing choice” of many Syrian rebels, to accept an amnesty with the Assad regime, fight with Islamist militants or flee the country. [Wall Street Journal

Bipartisan lawmakers are urging the Obama administration not to provide shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to Syrian rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, citing fears that the weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists or target civilian aircraft. Rebecca Kheel provides the details at The Hill.

Factions opposed to Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi are struggling to agree on a mutually satisfactory alternative, stymied by divisions within their ranks. [Wall Street Journal’s Ghassan Adnan et al]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

A Palestinian woman has been killed by Israeli tank fire in the Gaza Strip, according to Palestinian sources, amid renewed clashes between Israeli forces and Hamas militants. [BBC]

A tunnel from Gaza into Israeli territory has been discovered by Israel’s military, the second in the three weeks since the arrest of a Hamas operative who has provided Israeli officials with “much information.” Efforts to discover tunnels have precipitated a surge in violence along the border. [New York Times’ Isabel Kershner]

The Obama administration has responded to a request by House members that the administration investigate whether Israel and Egypt were guilty of human rights violations, which stoked tensions between the US and Israel at the time. [Politico’s Nahal Toosi]

Is the “peace industry” serving Palestinians and Israelis? Numerous joint Israeli-Palestinian NGOs are working to “foster tolerance” and “overcome challenges,” but they are detached from the reality of tensions that have escalated to violence since last October, reports Zena Tahhan. A French initiative is set to begin in Paris next month, intended to revive peace talks. [Al Jazeera]

SOUTH CHINA SEA

US forces have returned to the Philippines’ Subic Bay, almost 25 years after Filipino politicians fought to remove them, as Chinese ships are increasingly choosing to cruise along the Filipino coast. [Washington Post’s Emily Rauhala]

Putting pressure on China could eventually cause it to recoil like a spring, a Chinese diplomat has told a news briefing. The ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on a case the Philippines has brought against China’s claims in the South China Sea is expected shortly. [Reuters’ Ben Blanchard and John Ruwitch]

China’s push for greater international support for its South China Sea policy has only won it the backing of a handful of “undemocratic, economically dependent” states, reports Christopher Bodeen. That said, recent endorsement by Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicates a growing anti-US and anti-Western united front. [Washington Post]

HILLARY CLINTON EMAIL CONTROVERSY

The FBI has interviewed top aides to Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as the investigation into her use of a private email server while serving as secretary of state continues. [Politico’s Josh Gerstein; NBC News’ Pete Williams]

Investigators have found little evidence that Clinton intended to break classification rules so far, US officials have said, though they intend to press on with the investigation, and eventually interview Clinton herself. [Washington Post’s Matt Zapotosky]

“They got her on a Guccifer.” Romanian hacker Marcel Lehel Lazar – nom de plume “Guccifer” – is responsible for letting the world know that the former secretary of state kept a private email server while in office.  This week he claimed to have repeatedly hacked Clinton’s server, and that it was easy. Kimberley A Strassel suggests, if Guccifer knew about Clinton’s server, so did China. [Wall Street Journal]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

Foreign intelligence services extensively spied on the 2008 political campaigns in the US, intelligence officials informed incoming members of the Obama administration in a newly disclosed document entitled “Unlocking the Secrets: How to Use The Intelligence Community.” Jenna McLaughlin provides further details at The Intercept.

Evidence obtained using the FBI’s covert cell-phone tracking equipment is so secret that it needs to be recreated in another form before it can be introduced at trial, a recently disclosed document shows the bureau telling a local police department. [The Intercept’s Jenna McLaughlin]

A US Navy sailor accused of spying did not provide military secrets to a foreign government, but instead an FBI informant who was posing as an official from Taiwan, according to military officials. Nancy A. Youssef and Shane Harris discuss a recording newly made public which “raises at least as many questions as it answers.” [The Daily Beast]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

World leaders are regarding Donald Trump’s accession to Republican presidential candidate with “a mix of alarm and confusion,” report David E Sanger and Jim Yardley, who say that whether he eventually becomes president or not, his rise is indicative of a new strain of US public opinion which may reshape the US’ approach to international security alliances and trade. [New York  Times]

The Pentagon refused to go into the “specifics” of the threat posed by Abu Sa’ad al-Sudani and Shadi Jabar Khalil Mohammad, a couple who were killed in a US military airstrike on April 22. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said that the husband and wife had been involved in planning attacks against the US, Canada and the UK and recruiting foreign fighters, but refused to comment on whether the plans had included attacks within the US. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

NATO’s European missile defense system went live yesterday despite increasingly strong Russian criticism, an important step in its new stance toward Moscow. Poland is due to make progress on its NATO missile-defense base today. [New York Times’ Steven Erlanger]

There has been no breakthrough in Yemen peace talks, now in their third week, delegates reportedly focused on trading accusations of violations of the ceasefire that took effect on April 11. [Al Jazeera]  Meanwhile, a suicide attack has killed at least seven people and wounded 15 others in the city of Marib, east of Sana’a. It is not yet clear who was responsible for the attack. [Reuters]

UK plans for troop deployment in Libya involve only a third being allocated to training and the rest to force protection, a defense source has confirmed. That is a much higher proportion than in other conflict zones, and may reflect fears over the volatility of militia groups and Islamic State in Libya, reports Ewen MacAskill. [The Guardian]

Médecins Sans Frontières has pulled out of a “landmark” UN-backed world humanitarian summit due to be held in Istanbul in a few weeks’ time, describing it as a “fig-leaf of good intentions, allowing these systematic violations, by states above all, to be ignored,” referring to the international community’s disregard for humanitarian and refugee laws in repeatedly allowing hospitals, staff and patients in warzones to be targeted over the past two years. Participants – whether states, UN agencies or NGOs – in the summit will be asked to reach a consensus on non-specific intentions to “uphold norms” and “end needs,” which MSF has said will effectively minimize the responsibility of state governments. [The Guardian’s Sam Jones]

North Korea’s Workers’ Party congress opened today with praise for leader Kim Jong-un’s creation of a “powerful nuclear deterrent.” [New York Times’ Choe Sang-Hun; Washington Post’s Anna Fifield]

What is the congress? The theory is that the one-party congress is where important decisions will be made, including the election of the Workers’ Party central committee and the adoption of new party lines.  The reality, however, is that the event will be dedicated to ensuring Kim Jong-un’s “monolithic leadership,” reports Choe Sang-Hun.  It will be Kim Jong-un’s “coronation.” [New York Times]

Obama’s “shameful” drone war legacy. As President Obama’s presidency comes to an end, he leaves behind him an expanded drone program, the details of which have only just been uncovered, revealing many “practical, legal and moral failings,” writes James Downie. [Washington Post] 

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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