The Early Edition: September 23, 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.

SYRIA

Crisis talks in New York aimed at reviving the ceasefire ended without resolution yesterday, reports Al Jazeera.

The Syrian army announced the launch of an offensive to recapture the rebel-held parts of Aleppo late last night making it clear it has no intention of adhering to US calls for the reinstatement of the failed US-Russia ceasefire deal, Liz Sly reports at the Washington Post.

The Assad regime’s bombing of rebel-held parts of Aleppo intensified to “unprecedented” levels today, residents and activists have told the AP.  The bombing appears to be “aimed at taking bit by bit the eastern sector of Aleppo and emptying it of its residents,” according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, its head reporting that Syria is dropping barrel bombs while Russian planes are conducting strikes. [The Guardian’s Julian Borger and Kareem Shaheen]

The Aleppo offensive includes a ground attack, a Syrian military source said today. [Reuters]

“The United States will continue to pursue every avenue of progress that we can” in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said after the Syrian government offensive was announced, adding that he was “no less determined” but “even more frustrated.” [Washington Post’s Karen DeYoung]

Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are due to hold more talks today, though it’s doubtful that even “confidence-building measures” are within their reach at this point, according to the AP .

The UN resumed aid convoys to besieged parts of Syria yesterday. [New York Times’ Michael R. Gordon, Nick Cumming-Bruce and Somini Sengupta]

Grounding flights over Syria would only help Islamic radicals gain ground, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said yesterday in opposition to the call to do so by Secretary Kerry. [AP’s George Jahn]

Turkey accused the US of supplying more weapons to Kurdish fighters in northern Syria this week, Reuters reports.

Russia and Turkey have been discussing the creation of a protocol to coordinate the their military flights over Syrian airspace, the Hürriyet Daily News reports, citing a Turkish military source.

The UN has extended the mandate of the investigation into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the AP reports.

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 16 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 21. Separately, partner forces conducted 13 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command

IRAQ

The Islamic State has been cleared from the town of Shirqat, a critical gateway to the militant group’s last remaining stronghold in Iraq, the Iraqi army confirmed yesterday. Tamer El-Ghobashy and Ghassan Adnan report at the Wall Street Journal.

Rockets launched by the Islamic State at US troops contained a mustard agent, the US military confirmed. [BBC]

Just over 500 families have returned to Fallujah in the three days since it was reopened for residents, Susannah George reports at the AP, hundreds more are waiting at the checkpoints blocking access to the city waiting to undergo multiple security checks.

The Islamic State’s rapid advance and now gradual territorial losses in Iraq and Syria have been charted on interactive maps by the BBC.

SAUDI ARABIA

The death toll from Saudi-led coalition airstrikes on civilian homes in the Yemeni city of Hodeidah rose to 32 yesterday, the AP reports.

The Defense Department is concerned that a bill allowing US citizens to sue the Saudi Arabian government over 9/11 could be used against US troops, Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday at a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

Turkey called for President Obama to prevent the bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act or JASTA, becoming law, inviting the US’s allies and partners to “take insightful and useful steps with a view to enhancing international cooperation and solidarity.” [Hürriyet Daily News]

President Obama, long a critic of Saudi Arabia, now finds himself in the awkward position of protecting the kingdom from Congress in promising to veto the bill, observes Nahal Toosi at POLITICO.

IRAN

The US and Saudi Arabia have created policies that have caused division and chaos from Syria to North Africa, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in his speech to the UN General Assembly yesterday. [Wall Street Journal’s Farnaz Fassihi]

A bill outlawing cash payments to Iran was passed by the House yesterday, a rebuke of the Obama administration’s sending of what Republicans say was “ransom” in January this year, Karoun Demirjian reports at the Washington Post.

Reports that US payments will go to the Iranian military are “troubling,” Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said yesterday, referring to recent reports that the Iranian government has approved a law that would allocate a $1.7 billion payment by the US this year to its military. [The Hill’s Kristina Wong]

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

The Israeli and Palestinian leaders took to the stage at the UN General Assembly one after the other yesterday, many in the audience recognizing a familiar script of “cajoling, lecturing, warning and guilt-tripping the international community into seeing their side of the bloody struggle” between the two nations, Peter Baker writes at the New York Times.

A resolution against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank will be presented by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, he told the UN General Assembly yesterday, Rory Jones reports at the Wall Street Journal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu extended an unprecedented invitation to Palestinian President Abbas to address Israel’s parliament yesterday, the AP’s Alina Heineke reports.

The sudden uptick in violence in Israel and the West Bank are a reaction to a situation of hopelessness fostered by the growth of Israeli settlements, some Palestinians say. [Washington Post’s Ruth Eglash and Sufian Taha]

PAKISTAN and INDIA

Speculation that Pakistan is preparing for another possible attack from India after last Sunday’s militant attack was piqued by Pakistani jets touching down on a major highway Wednesday and yesterday with traffic blocked for hours and commercial flights suspended, Pamela Constable and Shaiq Hussain report at the Washington Post.

India signed a deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France today, its first major acquisition of combat planes in decades, Tommy Wilkes and Nigam Prusty report at Reuters.

NORTH KOREA

It is time to reconsider whether North Korea qualifies for UN membership, South Korea’s Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se said yesterday, accusing the North of “totally ridiculing” the authority of the UN. [Reuters’ David Brunnstrom]

Elite troops are on standby to assassinate North Korean leader Kim Jong-un if South Korea feels threatened by the North’s nuclear weapons, South Korea’s defense minister revealed this week. [CNN’s Paula Hancocks]

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY and TECHNOLOGY

A “state-sponsored actor” hacked the accounts of at least 500 million Yahoo customers two years ago, the company announced yesterday, the New York Times’ Nicole Perlroth reports. This is the biggest known data breach to date, which Yahoo started investigate in in August after reports surfaced of over 200 million user records being offered for sale on underground marketplaces, the Financial Times’ Tim Bradshaw, Madhumita Murgia and Adam Samson report.

Yahoo has not provided any proof that the hacker was state-sponsored, points out Motherboard, a company spokesperson offering only the statement that the company strongly believed it to be the case.

Russia was accused of “making a serious and concerted effort to influence the US election” through cyber attacks by senior Democratic lawmakers with access to classified intelligence yesterday, Greg Miller reports at the Washington Post.

Emails containing the names and cellphone numbers of Secret Service Agents and documents detailing the minute-by-minute schedules of the Vice President, the first lady and Hillary Clinton during recent political events were posted by hackers Thursday, the New York Times’ Michael D. Shear and Matthew Rosenberg report.

The website DC Leaks, believed to have ties with Russia, released the documents, which are thought to have been stolen from the account of a White House official, the Hill’s Julian Hattem reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The UN Security Council approved its first ever resolution addressing extremist threats to civil aviation and encouraging increased security yesterday, Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Who’s still held at Guantánamo? The Miami Herald provides the details of the remaining 61 detainees.

Can the FBI do more to investigate suspected terrorists? The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” covers this question, with Just Security’s own Faiza Patel, who is co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice and NYU Law School and Paul Rosenzweig, a principal at Red Branch Consolting and former deputy assistant secretary for policy at the US Department of Homeland Security.

The Boko Haram crisis in Nigeria “rages” but fails to sustain the level of global outrage that spiked when almost 300 schoolgirls were kidnapped in the village of Chibok in 2014, and the UN is unable to raise even a quarter of the money it needs to help combat it, Dionne Searcey writes at the New York Times. 

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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