The Early Edition: August 22, 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

The Kurdish YPG militia began a major offensive on the last government-held parts of the northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka today, after calling on regime forces to surrender, according to Kurdish forces and locals. [Reuters]

Russia has stopped using an Iranian air base to launch strikes on targets in Syria, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said today. [Reuters]  Iran’s defense minister has criticized Russia for its “show-off and ungentlemanly” attitude in publicizing its use of an Iranian airbase, reports Nasser Karimi at the AP.

Aleppo is the “emotional and strategic hinge” of the Syrian war, writes Geoff Dyer at the Financial Times. For the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian supporters, and for the rebels fighting there, Aleppo is the defining struggle in the broader war, and with over a million civilians still trapped there, the city represents the country’s most acute humanitarian crisis. It is also where the US’s approach to Syria – cautious military intervention mixed with diplomacy – has been stretched close to breaking point, writes Dyer.

Iraq executed 36 men convicted and sentenced to death for taking part in the Islamic State’s murder of around 1,700 Shiite military personnel in 2014, on Sunday. The massacre took place at the Camp Speicher air base close to Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit. Omar al-Jawoshy and Tim Arango report for the New York Times

TURKEY

A child of between 12 and 14 detonated a bomb at a wedding in southeastern Turkey on Saturday, killing 51 guests and wounding 69 others, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said. There were “strong indications” that the Islamic State was responsible for the attack, he said. [Hürriyet Daily News] National Security Council spokesperson Ned Price condemned the attack in a statement released yesterday. Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences via a telegram to President Erdoğan on Sunday, also conveying Russia’s preparedness to increase counterterrorism cooperation with Turkey, including following through on agreements reached during their recent talks in Russia. [AP]

The Islamic State has a history of using children as weapons, reports the AP. The terror group maintains an army of child soldiers it calls “cubs of the caliphate,” and educates children at its own schools, the program involving exposure to violent acts such as beheadings, and indoctrination with the Islamic State’s own brand of Islam.

None of the evidence provided by Turkey in its request for US extradition of cleric Fethullah Gulen relates to the July 15 coup attempt, a senior administration official said at the end of last week. The evidence provided relates only to his alleged activities beforehand. Turkey’s request is currently being examined by the Justice Department, reports Karen DeYoung in the Washington Post.

RUSSIA

Russian and Saudi Arabian officials met yesterday to discuss ceasefires in Syria and Yemen and the consolidation of efforts in the fight against terrorism, announced Russia’s Foreign Ministry. [Interfax]

Russia’s ability to use its status as a Eurasian power to advance its foreign policy goals has gone almost unnoticed by Western policymakers, Luke Coffey writes for Al Jazeera, citing three recent actions, Russia’s firing cruise missiles at Syria from ships in the Caspian Sea, using an Iranian airbase to carry out airstrikes in Syria, and carrying out the first ever training exercises along NATO’s border by the Collective Security Treaty group of states – a Moscow-led organization including Kazakhstan, Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.

CHINA

China held war games in the Sea of Japan last week, during which it displayed its latest-generation frigate. [AP’s Christopher Bodeen]

Foreign ministers from China, Japan and South Korea are to meet in Tokyo this week to discuss cooperation, with Japan’s Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida due to hold a dinner for his Chinese and South Korean counterparts Tuesday, followed by the first trilateral meeting Wednesday. [Reuters]

Christopher Bodeen at the AP provides a look at recent key developments in China’s territorial disputes with its smaller neighbors in the South China Sea region.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Israel carried out a series of airstrikes targeting Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip late yesterday, in response to a Palestinian rocket attack that hit an Israeli border town earlier in the day, reports the AP.  The Israeli response was “unusually strong” and involved dozens of strikes, writes Peter Beaumont at the Guardian.

Israel has been accused of orchestrating a “very organized and advanced campaign” of threats and intimidation against Palestinian human rights defenders who hold it accountable for human rights violations against Palestinians, reports Jillian Kestler-D’Amours for Al Jazeera. Israel’s goal is to stop them from dealing actively with the International Criminal Court, according to Shawan Jabarin, director of Al Haq, a prominent Ramallah-based Palestinian human rights organization.

A slim majority of both Israelis and Palestinians support a peace settlement establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, despite the years of conflict, a recent poll suggests. The poll may provide a small sign of encouragement amid bleak prospects for peace, suggests Josef Federman at the AP. The last round of peace negotiations broke down two years ago.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

UN-backed Libyan forces in Sirte have gained ground against the Islamic State, reclaiming the city’s main mosque and a prison that was being used by the Islamists’ “morality police,” reports Reuters. The forces say they are close to retaking the city.

Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Kenya yesterday to hold talks with President Uhuru Kenyatta expected to focus on regional security and extremism, reports the AP. The discussions are anticipated to cover stabilizing neighboring South Sudan, as well as developments in Somalia and Burundi.

Ahmad al-Mahdi has pleaded guilty to the destruction of religious monuments in the ancient city of Timbuktu in 2012 at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. His trial is the first to cite the destruction of cultural artifacts as a war crime, and Madhi is the first defendant accused of war crimes at the ICC to enter a guilty plea, saying he was doing so “with deep regret and pain” and advising Muslims around the world not to commit similar acts. [The Guardian’s Ruth Maclean]

The Taliban seized an Afghan government-controlled district in northern Kunduz province on Saturday, cutting off access to two main highways leading to the provincial capital, officials said. [AP’s Sayed Salahuddin]

Extremist Islamist prisoners in the UK will be put in special units to keep them from influencing other inmates, reports the BBC. A recent report found there was “complacency” at the “growing problem” of radicalization in jails in the UK.

Pakistani security forces killed six people in clashes with “terrorists” in the Khyber region close to the Afghan border, Pakistan’s military said late last night. Reuters’ Asad Hashim reports.

A suicide bomb in the Somali town of Galkayo killed at least 20 people on Sunday, report Jeffrey Gettleman and Hussein Mohamed at the New York Times. Al-Shabaab has claimed responsibility for the attack.

The US and South Korea began annual military drills today despite threats of nuclear strikes from North Korea, reports Hyung-Jin Kim at the AP.

Anjem Choudary, linked to the recruitment of 500 British jihadists fighting in Syria, was sentenced to ten years in a British prison last week. The “evil clown” who called for Queen Elizabeth to be forced to wear a burqa and for an Islamic State flag to be hoisted over 10 Downing Street used his “jester brand” to conceal an incredibly nefarious network, writes former fellow Islamist Maajid Nawaz at the Daily Beast. 

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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