Report

Syrian Rebels Continue Advance on Government-Held Cities

The Army of Conquest, the Syrian rebel coalition that includes Jabhat al-Nusra as well as more moderate elements, seized Ariha yesterday in northwestern Syria. The town was the last holdout of Assad regime forces in Idlib province, but those troops and a large contingent of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have withdrawn from Ariha, reports the Syrian ...

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The Army of Conquest, the Syrian rebel coalition that includes Jabhat al-Nusra as well as more moderate elements, seized Ariha yesterday in northwestern Syria. The town was the last holdout of Assad regime forces in Idlib province, but those troops and a large contingent of Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have withdrawn from Ariha, reports the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Farther east, Kurdish militias have begun to challenge the Islamic State near Tel Abyad.

In Palmyra, the Islamic State continues to consolidate its control of the city, which it seized from Assad regime forces last week. After executing soldiers and government workers, it has now begun trying to win public support by restoring service for local utilities. Government airstrikes have helped shift support toward the Islamic State, reports the New York Times.

According to one former resident who is still in contact with family in the city, the Islamic State is “treating Palmyra’s people as if they were captured as human shields by the regime.” A new U.N. resolution approved yesterday, prompted by the Islamic State’s destruction of ancient artifacts in Iraq and recent seizure of ruins in Palmyra, encourages the prosecution of people destroying or illegally trading in antiquities.

Syrian al-Qaeda Affiliate Begins PR Campaign to Soften Image

Jabhat al-Nusra, the al-Qaeda affiliate operating in Syria, has begun a public relations campaign to make it more acceptable to Western governments. In an interview released this week, Nusra commander Abu Mohamed al-Jolani said that the organization was not planning to attack Western countries and that it would protect minority groups. Analysts say the efforts to soften Nusra’s image are likely the result of pressure from Qatar, but that it’s unlikely to sway the United States.

Headlines

  • For second time in consecutive weeks, a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque in Saudi Arabia this morning; at least four people were killed.

 

  • Two car bombs were detonated in the parking lots of luxury hotels in Baghdad, killing at least 10 people and wounding more than 30 others.

 

  • One of the leading causes of death and injury in Sanaa in the current war in Yemen is anti-aircraft fire by Houthi fighters in civilian neighborhoods, according to a report by Amnesty International.

 

  • Cypriot authorities arrested a 26-year-old Lebanese man in possession of two tons of fertilizer, which authorities believe was going to be used in explosives.

 

  • After a day of meetings with FIFA President Sepp Blatter and the heads of the Israeli Football Association and the Palestinian Football Association, Israeli officials say they were not able to reach an agreement and do not know how a potential vote to expel Israel from FIFA will go.

Arguments and Analysis

Taming the Militias: Building National Guards in Fractured Arab States” (Frederic Wehrey and Ariel I. Ahram, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

“The national guard concept faces many hurdles, as seen during its consideration in Iraq and Libya. The guard structure raises significant questions about accountability and the cohesion of the state overall; the forces could well weaken rather than strengthen the state. But properly constructed, they could serve as tentative first steps on the long path toward new power-sharing arrangements that favor inclusion and local representation over exclusion and repression by the center. In this sense, they may represent the best hope for restoring stability in these fragile nations.”

 

Blair’s Quartet resignation highlights the bankruptcy of the peace process” (Khaled Elgindy, Brookings Institution)

“Tony Blair’s announcement yesterday that he was resigning from his post as Quartet Representative came as no surprise, especially after word of his imminent departure was leaked several weeks ago. Even so, Blair’s resignation is a welcome development and long overdue — not only because he was totally ineffective and lacked any credibility with the parties, but more importantly because the Blair mission itself has become a symbol of a dysfunctional and largely farcical peace process.”

 

-J. Dana Stuster

Fadi al-Halabi/AFP/Getty Images

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