The Early Edition: August 11, 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

Russia announced a daily three-hour ceasefire in Aleppo to allow aid convoys to access the city, starting today, to run from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. local time, a senior Russian Defense Ministry official said yesterday, adding that Russia will work with the Syrian government to deliver the aid. [Reuters]  UN officials have said that three hours is not enough time to help the 250,000 civilians trapped inside the besieged city, reports the BBC, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien saying “you need two (road) lanes and you need to have about 48 hours to get sufficient trucks in,” something the UN could deliver if it had safe access.

Fighting persisted in Syria’s Aleppo more than an hour into Russia’s three-hour ceasefire, rebel groups and witnesses said when Reuters asked them at 10:45 a.m. local time.

Three civilians were killed in a chlorine gas attack in a rebel-held district of Aleppo, a Syrian aid worker has reported. Khaled Harah said a government helicopter dropped four barrel bombs last night, one of which released the gas. His report was posted online today, and has not been independently verified, reports the AP.

Doctors in Aleppo have written a letter to President Obama urging him to intervene to stop the bombing of hospitals in the city, Patrick Wintour reports for the Guardian.

Rebels in eastern Aleppo took to the streets to celebrate after breaking a month-long government siege. Revelers interviewed by CNN’s Salma Abdelaziz were very aware that it was not the UN or the Western-backed forces that had defeated Assad’s army, but Islamist fighters – particularly Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham, previously the Nusra Front.

The battle for Aleppo has brought together all the major actors in Syria’s civil war, and may be the most important battle of the five-year conflict, suggest Karen DeYoung and Hugh Naylor at the Washington Post.

US-led military campaigns in Iraq and Syria have removed 45,000 Islamic State combatants from the battlefield, reducing the number of Islamic State fighters to as little as 15,000, Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland claimed. The flow of fighters into Iraq and Syria has decreased, he said, and many of those fighting for the Islamists now are untrained or unwilling. [AP

TURKEY

Informing on Gulenists is a “patriotic duty,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told a group of businessmen yesterday. The statement is likely to fan concern over the large-scale crackdown on alleged followers of cleric Fethullah Gulen in Turkey, suggests Suzan Fraser at the AP.

Over 27,000 people working in the education sector in Turkey have had their work permits canceled as part of the ongoing investigation into the suspected infiltration of state institutions by followers of US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, blamed for the failed coup attempt on July 15, Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz announced today. [Reuters]

NATO has issued a statement asserting that Turkey’s membership is “not in question” in an attempt to quash rumors that the relationship is being threatened as Turkey moves closer to Russia, Sam Jones and Laura Pitel report at the Financial Times.

Turkey blamed the PKK for coordinated attacks in two Turkish cities yesterday targeting police vehicles, which killed at least twelve people, government officials have reported. [Wall Street Journal’s Yeliz Candemir and Margaret Coker; AP’s Suzan Fraser]

Turkish police have detained 17 people today in an operation aimed at Kurdish militants across Istanbul, including at the offices of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party. [Reuters]

Erdoğan’s decision to meet with Russian President Putin Tuesday is “the latest sign of deteriorating US-Turkish relations,” Steven A. Cook and Michael J. Koplow write at the Wall Street Journal. Unlike previous “difficult days” between the two nations, after which leaders managed to find their way back, this time “will be different:” these days, the US and Turkey see eye to eye on very little.

“Strongmen” like Erdoğan must always blame foreign “enemies” for domestic troubles, says the Washington Post editorial board. Erdoğan has chosen to blame US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, the CIA and the US government for the attempted coup. Similar behavior can be discerned in Russia’s Putin, and in China, where human rights lawyer Wang Yu was made to make a videotaped “confession” blaming foreigners after she had been detained for a year. The only remedy, says the board, is to call them out and counter them with the truth.

RUSSIA and UKRAINE

President Putin accused the Ukrainian government of plotting terrorist attacks in Crimea yesterday, threatening to respond. He said that two Russian servicemen had been killed confronting the “plotters.” Ukraine’s President Petro O. Poroshenko denied the accusations as “fantasies” and a pretext for further military threats by Russia against Ukraine. [New York Times’ Ivan Nechepurenko]

Putin held a meeting with Russia’s Security Council to discuss heightened security measures for Crimea following the clashes, the Kremlin reported today. [Reuters]

Ukraine has the military resources to defend itself and is monitoring the situation around Crimea, a spokesman for Ukraine’s General Staff told Reuters today.

Russia has gathered extra troops and equipment on Ukraine’s border with Crimea in recent days, a Ukrainian border guards spokesperson said today. [Reuters]

The dispute comes amid an increase in violence in eastern Ukraine last month. Russia is accused of supporting separatists through covert military interventions, something it denies, James Marson reports in the Wall Street Journal. Fighting in the region had lasted for almost two years, killing almost 10,000 people, before a ceasefire was agreed in February 2015. Despite the ceasefire, talks on a long-term resolution to the conflict have dragged on, accompanied by clashes in several places along the front lines.

The “ominous” situation in Crimea could signal that Putin intends another military offensive there, suggests Luke Harding at the Guardian. This new crisis has, suspiciously, come from nowhere – the region where the clashes took place, the Perekop isthmus, has been quiet even while other parts of Ukraine saw daily clashes between pro-Russia rebels and Ukrainian government forces.

CHINA

China must respect maritime law and security and the rule of law in the South China Sea, the Philippine’s Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay said today while meeting with his Japanese counterpart to discuss regional security and cooperation on maritime security. [Reuters’ Manuel Mogato]

The Chinese government has launched a series of viral online videos blaming “western hostile forces” for various domestic ills and conspiracies over the past few weeks, reports the Financial Times’ Jamil Anderlini. The videos are crude yet emotive, including one which features scenes of children victimized in the wars of Iraq and Syria, followed by an assertion that the west intends to subject China to the same fate. If the fearmongering succeeds, China may be forced to placate the outrage generated among its citizens by taking affirmative action against the west, Anderlini warns.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

US-backed pro-government militias said they have taken the Libyan city of Sirte from the Islamic State yesterday. If true, this would be a major blow to the Islamist organization’s expansion into North Africa, reports Rod Nordland for the New York Times.

The stories of former al-Qaeda bomb makers and bodyguards and other members who have been cleared for release from Guantánamo Bay are told in a new unclassified report released by Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R–NH) yesterday. The report is mainly compiled from Pentagon information already made public through the Periodic Review Board process, reports the AP’s Deb Riechmann.

The NSA was “blindsided” by enemy fighters in Iraq and Afghanistan’s use of “high-powered cordless phones” – basic wireless communication devices – documents published by The Intercept reveal. The documents, which mostly date to late 2003, were provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, report Margot Williams and Micah Lee.

The NSA partnered up with the Defense Intelligence Agency to “exploit medical intelligence” and extract “medical SIGINT” from the intercepted communications of nonprofit groups from the early 2000s onwards, one of the published documents shows. Medical intelligence can include information about the medical response capabilities of various governments and the ability of a foreign regime to respond to a nuclear attack, explains Jenna McLaughlin at The Intercept.

Canadian police have killed a man their believed was about to carry out a suicide bombing in a public area, officials said late yesterday. The suspect was Aaron Driver, who had been under police surveillance for at least a year because authorities believed he intended to help terror groups. Details of how he died have not been released. [AP]

The cyberattack on Democrats’ accounts – blamed on Russia – was bigger than first thought, officials close to the FBI investigation into the hack said yesterday, breaching the private email accounts of over a 100 party officials and groups. The FBI has broadened its investigation in response, Eric Lichtblau and Eric Schmitt report at the New York Times.

A lawsuit filed against Twitter by families of victims of the Islamic State has been dismissed by a federal judge, reports POLITICO’s Josh Gerstein. The families of contractors Lloyd Fields and James Creach alleged that Twitter was legally liable for their deaths because the Islamic State used it to spread its propaganda. In his ruling, the judge found several problems with the suit, including the absence of any clear allegation that the individual who carried out the attack which killed the men had actually been radicalized by things he had seen on Twitter.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors inside the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has been living for the past four years having been granted political asylum by Ecuador. The move could be the breakthrough to end the impasse over Assange’s case: he is wanted for questioning over a rape allegation, which he denies, but refuses to go to Sweden in the belief that he will be extradited to the US over the activities of WikiLeaks. [The Guardian]

A roadside bomb in the Pakistani city of Quetta targeting police personnel escorting a judge has wounded 13 people today. The attack comes days after a suicide bombing at a hospital killed at least 74 people, many of them lawyers, reports Reuters.

Emergency measures were lifted at Brussels international airport last night a few hours after a bomb threat was received, reports the New York Times’ Alissa J. Rubin.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and his British counterpart Boris Johnson spoke by phone today to discuss a possible normalization of bilateral ties, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. They also reportedly discussed the fight against terrorism, and Syria. [Reuters]

Two policemen have died after an attacker on a motorbike threw an explosive device at their car in Iran’s mainly Kurdish town of Marivan near the Iraq border, local media has reported today. [AP]

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About the Author(s)

Zoë Chapman

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