Two deadly airstrikes hit an internally displaced persons camp in Syria, near the Turkish border, on Thursday, killing at least 28 people. The attack is believed to have been carried out by Russia or the Assad regime and hit a camp populated by civilians who had fled fighting in Aleppo and Palmyra, including women and children. Stephen O’Brien, humanitarian affairs chief for the United Nations, has called for an investigation to determine who committed the attack and whether it qualifies as a war crime. “The suspicion will fall initially on the Syrian government and we will want to make sure that they, or whoever it is, are fully held to account for this absolutely abominable act,” he told the BBC. “Be in no doubt that all these terrible acts, wherever they happen and whoever perpetrates them, will not be forgotten and the people who perpetrate them will be held to account.”
Aleppo remained calmer than in recent weeks yesterday, despite sporadic violations of a short-term ceasefire. Heavy clashes occurred a few miles outside the city, though, as the Jaish al-Fatah coalition of Islamist rebels captured the neighboring town of Khan Touman from government troops. U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army forces said they did not participate in the attack.
AQAP Withdraws from More Yemeni Cities
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula began withdrawing its forces from the cities of Jaar and Zinjibar yesterday as part of an agreement mediated by local tribal groups. Some fighters were seen abandoning their weapons outside of the cities, which have been occupied since last year and were previously captured by the group in 2011-2012. AQAP also withdrew from the port city of Mukalla last month and has come under increasing pressure from a military coalition of local forces and Gulf states, particularly the United Arab Emirates, intervening in the country. The U.S. Defense Department confirmed yesterday that it is providing support to counterterrorism operations in Yemen, including intelligence, naval support, and advising from Special Operations Forces at a command center.
- Saudi security forces carried out raids on Islamic State cells in Wadi Noman, south of Mecca, and in Jeddah; at least two arrests were made and four were killed in a gunfight and by self-detonated explosives.
- Egyptian human rights lawyer Malek Adly, who has been outspoken about police abuse and helped organize protests against the government’s transfer of two Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, has been arrested and will be detained for at least two weeks as investigators look into accusations that Adly was plotting a coup, among other crimes.
- Clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip continued today as Gazan forces fired more mortar shells at Israeli troops searching for cross-border tunnels; Israel retaliated with more airstrikes.
- The German government issued a statement saying that Chancellor Angela Merkel expects Turkey to continue to uphold its agreement with the European Union on refugees after Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu steps down later this month.
- A bipartisan group of U.S. members of Congress is urging the U.S. government to not provide shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS) to Syrian rebels despite growing pressure from countries in the region to boost the military assistance and capabilities the U.S. provides.
Arguments and Analysis
“How to De-polarize and De-personalize the U.S. Turkish Relationship” (Joshua Walker and Selma Bardakci, War on the Rocks)
“While Obama and Erdogan have split in their discourse, they both know how important it is to work together, even if they do not enjoy it. Even Erdogan, in his speech at Brookings, emphasized that despite differences of opinion, Turkish-American relations are “strong enough to resolve disagreements through dialogue.” Ideally, relations between two democracies should weather political transitions and personal rifts. During President Obama’s remaining time in office, it is important to be wary of the paternalistic relationship that has come to characterize the nature of U.S.-Turkey relations in both the American and Turkish media. At the same time Erdogan who is not scheduled to face any elections for three more years must seek unity at home before he can win allies abroad. There has never been a more important time to de-personalize and de-polarize the U.S.-Turkish relationship currently held hostage to domestic politics. There is too much at stake in this historic alliance. The problems on both sides of the Atlantic should drive Ankara and Washington together. The importance of the U.S.-Turkey relationship has never been more critical and in need of transcending its current personalized and polarized state.”
“How can al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula be defeated?” (Elisabeth Kendall, Monkey Cage)
“During my most recent research trip to eastern Yemen late last year, I was struck by a meeting I had with three leading community members from Mukalla, which had been overrun by AQAP since April 2015. Long into the night I listened to their litany of complaints against AQAP, linked to the new restrictions afflicting their familiar daily routines. When I suggested continuing our discussion the next day, one of them was quick to apologize; he had to rush to a meeting with AQAP commanders. He shrugged off this seeming contradiction by explaining that there was a water problem in his village, and AQAP had promised to fix it. His companion chipped in with news of a long-standing land dispute that AQAP was helping to settle. Despite popular dislike of the organization, even its detractors grudgingly acknowledged that AQAP was approachable, had some sense of justice and got things done. In the West, counterterrorism is framed in terms of security: how to combat (read ‘kill’) militant jihadist fighters. But the real problem is not so much the jihadists, ready and even eager to die for their cause. It is AQAP’s notable ability to create safe havens in which extremism can flourish by establishing relationships among populations that rarely share their vision but nevertheless tolerate them. These populations abide AQAP because the terror group helps to support those communities.”
-J. Dana Stuster
OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP/Getty Images