Report

U.N. Sets Date for Syria Talks

The United Nations said Saturday that the date for peace talks among the parties to the Syrian civil war has been set for January 25, 2016. The participants for those talks in Geneva are still subject to change — the Assad regime has not announced its delegation and the opposition delegation, decided in talks in ...

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The United Nations said Saturday that the date for peace talks among the parties to the Syrian civil war has been set for January 25, 2016. The participants for those talks in Geneva are still subject to change — the Assad regime has not announced its delegation and the opposition delegation, decided in talks in Saudi Arabia, could shift — but U.N. diplomats say they are a positive step that should not be “derailed” by events in Syria. A truce negotiated in September went into effect this morning in Zabadani, near the Lebanese border, and two towns in Idlib Province. Under the terms of the agreement, civilians and fighters are being allowed to flee to Lebanon and Turkey.

The announcement came a day after Zahran Alloush, the head of Syrian rebel group Jaysh al-Islam, was killed in an airstrike near Damascus. Rebels told reporters that they believe the attack was carried out by Russian warplanes. In Homs, a pair of bombings targeting an Alawite neighborhood killed at least 19 people.

Iraqi Military Says Ramadi “Liberated” from Islamic State

The Iraqi military declared that Ramadi “has been liberated” from the Islamic State, and videos show Iraqi forces celebrating in the city. Earlier today, Iraqi troops raised the Iraqi flag over the government complex in the city. Iraqi officials say that some militants may remain, but that they are no longer meeting resistance and are working to clear remaining bombs from the city.

Headlines

  • Naji Jerf, a documentarian with the anti-Islamic State group Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, was assassinated in Gaziantep, Turkey, by a gunman with a silenced pistol.

 

  • Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi released a new audio message, his first since May, in which he mocked the U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State and threatened attacks against Israel.

 

  • Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu signaled he plans to exclude the pro-Kurdish opposition People’s Democracy Party from negotiations on constitutional reform in response to party leader Selahattin Demirtas’ recent trip to Moscow.

 

  • Yemen’s ousted former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, who has supported the country’s Houthi rebels, has called for withdrawing from the U.N.-backed negotiations set to resume next month in favor of negotiating directly with Saudi Arabia.

 

  • In a year-end report, the Algerian defense ministry announced that the military had killed more than 100 Islamist militants and arrested 36 others over the year, as well as seizing 182 bombs and 132 mines.

Arguments and Analysis

Egypt’s Escalating Islamist Insurgency” (Mokhtar Awad and Mostafa Hashem, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace)

“These groups are all part of Egypt’s changing insurgent landscape. It is made up of three broad categories: Sinai-based jihadists affiliated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State and with a limited operational presence in the mainland (the populous heartland of Egypt along the Nile valley), mainland-based Salafi jihadists who tend to be supporters of al-Qaeda or affiliated with al-Qaeda, and a new category of non-Salafi-jihadi groups made up of Islamist supporters and some members of the Muslim Brotherhood. What distinguishes this last category is that its members fashion themselves as ‘revolutionaries’ or ‘resistance fighters,’ thus justifying the often-anarchic violence they deploy. Their objectives are also narrower than those of the jihadists, encompassing only retribution against security forces and toppling President Sisi’s government in order to reinstate Islamist rule in Egypt.”

 

ISIS in Gaza” (Sarah Helm, New York Review of Books)

“In the House of Wisdom — a Hamas think tank — Ahmed Yousef, a Hamas moderate, was assigned to consider a response. A well-traveled and affable intellectual, Yousef advised the use of persuasion rather than brute force. Salafist prisoners were visited by a committee of approved theologians who tried to ‘correct’ the Salafists’ misreading of the Prophet’s message on jihad and ‘reeducated’ them. He seemed to be playing down the problem of Salafists, probably for fear of fanning the flame or giving the outside world the impression that Hamas had lost control. For one thing, some of those behind the attacks were former al-Qassem fighters, hence their military skills. Angry about Hamas’s insistence on maintaining the cease-fire and other signs of moderation, they had quit al-Qassem and signed up with the jihadist groups. Nevertheless, as Yousef pointed out, many new recruits to Salafism were disaffected youth. Hamas had interviewed the families of those who had left for Syria or died there—he could not say how they traveled or how many they were. Yousef had been to funerals — ‘family events’ — of those who’d died in Syria ‘to look at the faces of relatives and better understand,’ he said. ‘These young people have nothing — no glamour, no hope. Nothing.’”

-J. Dana Stuster

GEORGE OURFALIAN/AFP/Getty Images

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