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The Early Edition: September 30, 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

Russia rejected US calls to halt the bombardment of Aleppo yesterday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov calling US Secretary of State John Kerry’s warning that the US was “on the verge” of suspending talks with Russia “somewhat awkward.” The rhetoric is a sign of rising tensions between Moscow and Washington, observe Max Seddon and Erika Solomon at the Financial Times.

Syrian government forces and rebels waged intense battles north of Aleppo today, Reuters reports.

An army of around 6,000 pro-Syrian government fighters has gathered on the outskirts of Aleppo, poised for an imminent advance, Martin Chulov and Kareem Shaheen report at the Guardian, including hundreds of Syrian troops and an estimated 5,000 foreign fighters.

Some of the larger rebel factions are aligning themselves with al-Qaeda-linked group the Syria Conquest Front, despite warnings from the US to separate from extremists or risk being targeted in airstrikes, Maria Abi-Habib reports at the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s not too late” to declare a no-fly zone in Syria, former CIA director David Petraeus said as calls for a military option in Syria increase, Kristina Wong reports at the Hill.

US policy in Syria has been “hesitant and weak,” the chief coordinator of the High Negotiations Committee, Riad Hajib, told Al Jazeera.

The UN Security Council was called out for its inaction in response to the Syrian army’s encirclement of eastern Aleppo and resulting “humanitarian catastrophe” by UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien yesterday, Michael Astor reports at the AP.

Russian airstrikes have killed over 9000 people in Syria including civilians and fighters since it began its air campaign backing Assad’s forces on Sep. 30 last year, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [AP]

US-led airstrikes continue. US and coalition forces carried out 18 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria on Sep. 28. Separately, partner forces conducted 10 strikes against targets in Iraq. [Central Command]

IRAQ

France has started air operations over Iraq, a number of Rafale fighter planes taking off from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier today, the BBC reports.

Iraqi forces must reclaim the city of Hawijah from Islamic State control before they retake Mosul, Nancy A. Youssef writes at The Daily Beast, citing defense officials.

The acceleration of the assault on Mosul is “setting the stage for a potentially catastrophic Day After problem,” suggests the Washington Post editorial board.

SAUDI ARABIA and JASTA

“Buyer’s remorse:” A day after Congress overrode President Obama’s veto, Republican congressional leaders said they might need to revisit Jasta, a measure that allows families of 9/11 victims to sue Saudi Arabia for any role it played in the attacks, to ensure US military personnel “do not have legal problems overseas” – as House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said yesterday. Karoun Demirjian and David Nakumara report at the Washington Post.

Jasta is a matter of “great concern,” Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry said in a statement yesterday. [BBC]  The foreign ministry expressed the hope that the US Congress would correct the legislation to “avoid the serious unintended consequences that may ensue,” Reuters reports.

Jasta is all the proof many Saudis need that the US-Saudi Arabia alliance that has underpinned regional order for decades is “fraying – perhaps irreparably,” Ben Hubbard writes at the New York Times.

The fight over legal responsibility for 9/11 is likely to shift to a courtroom in Lower Manhattan, where cases originally filed across the US were consolidated several years ago, now that lawyers are no longer constrained by a sovereign immunity law protecting foreign governments from US lawsuits, Mark Mazzetti anticipates at the New York Times.

Jasta is “not nearly as tough” as politicians and journalists have made it look, suggests Patty Culhane at Al Jazeera: the measure contains a provision that the Obama administration can certify that the US government is negotiating a resettlement with Saudi Arabia and then a judge has to stay the lawsuits for six months, and stays can be issued over and over.

INDIA and PAKISTAN

Pakistan said it “completely rejected” India’s claim that it sent its troops across the border in Kashmir to kill suspected militants today, Asad Hashim and Fayaz Bukhari report at Reuters.

People living in Indian villages close to the border with Pakistan are fleeing a day after India said it launched attacks targeting militants in Kashmir amid fears the confrontation will escalate, the BBC reports.

The US reminded India and Pakistan that nuclear capable states do not threaten to use atomic weapons in any conflict yesterday while also stating that it considers the Sep. 18 attack on an Indian military facility a terrorist attack, Anwar Iqbal reports at Dawn.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway Taliban faction and US-designated terrorist group has claimed responsibility for many of the militant attacks carried out in recent weeks and months in Pakistan. The AP takes a look at some of the major attacks the group has claimed.  Jamaat-ul-Ahrar has eclipsed the Taliban as the main militant group in Pakistan, Pakistan stating that it trains and plots its attacks from save havens in Afghanistan, a charge the group itself denies, Kathy Gannon reports at the AP.

IRAN

The Obama administration agreed to back the lifting of UN sanctions against Iranian state banks which financed Iran’s ballistic missiles program on the same day Tehran released four US citizens in January this year, US officials and congressional staff said. Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee report at the Wall Street Journal.

Terrorists need cash, and the US just handed over billions of dollars in cash to Iran, the “biggest state sponsor of terrorism” according to the State Department, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) points out at the Hill.

YEMEN

The UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution calling for increased UN monitoring of human rights abuses in war-torn Yemen while rejecting calls from the UN human rights chief for an independent investigation, Jamey Keaten reports at the AP.

This was a “tortuous compromise” with Saudi Arabia, Patrick Wintour writes at the Guardian, Human Rights Watch and the EU calling it a limited step forward while others said it was a flagrant failure of accountability.

ISRAEL and PALESTINE

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shook hands at the funeral of former Israeli leader Shimon Peres today, Jeffrey Heller reports at ReutersHaaretz’ Barak Ravid calls the meeting of Netanyahu and Abbas for the first time in six years “one last victory” in death for Peres and a feat “every world leader has been trying, and failing, to achieve.”

President Obama joined other world leaders at the state funeral of Shimon Peres, Greg Jaffe and Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post taking the opportunity to reflect on the state of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process today.

TURKEY

The closure of 12 more news organizations for alleged threats to national security have been ordered by Turkish authorities in the aftermath of the July 15 failed coup, Suzan Fraser reports at the AP.

A total of 1,500 prison personnel and guards have been suspended over links to cleric Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish justice minister said. [Reuters]

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The US will “sharpen our military edge” in response to Chinese territorial expansionism and other regional threats as it begins the next phase of its pivot to Asia, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said yesterday. [CNN’s Euan McKirdy]

A US airstrike in eastern Afghanistan that killed at least 15 civilians early Wednesday has been condemned by the UN, Mujib Mashal reports at the New York Times.

Somalia’s government has asked for an explanation from the US for an air raid it says killed 22 soldiers and civilians in the northern region of Galmudug, Al Jazeera reports.

The US is building a military air base in Niger capable of deploying drones and costing at least $50 million, giving the US greater ability to use drones against extremists in neighboring countries like Libya, Mali and Nigeria, the BBC reports.  The project is considered the most important US military construction in Africa, and is just one of a number of recent US military initiatives in Niger, according to formerly secret files obtained by The Intercept’s Nick Turse.

The US’s alliance with the Philippines is “ironclad,” US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said en route to a meeting with defense ministers from Southeast Asia, including the Philippines, in Hawaii. [AP’s Tran Van Minh]

The manner in which special peace tribunal set up under Colombia’s peace accord operate will be closely watched by the top UN human rights official, he said yesterday. [AP’s Joshua Goodman]

Hundreds of people are trapped amid fighting in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, Amnesty International said. [AP]

Belgian authorities will expand the “Canal Plan” aimed at combatting terrorism beyond Molenbeek, the neighborhood of Brussels that was home to several suicide bombers, reports Valentina Pop at the Wall Street Journal.

Russia’s behavior over the last few weeks echoes some of the worst moments of the Cold War, including sophisticated cyberattacks, escalating airstrikes in Syria and evidence of complicity in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17, leaving US intelligence officials wondering whether President Putin has a larger scheme at work, writes David E. Sanger at the New York Times.

The case of Dandong Hongxiang Industrial Development Co. is “a window into the Chinese lifelines that sustain Kim Jong Un’s regime in Pyongyang – and a guide for where US sanctions enforcers can aim yet,” says the Wall Street Journal editorial board, referring to the first Chinese firm sanctioned by the Obama administration for ties to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

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About the Author

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