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Kerry and Lavrov Reach Framework for Syria Ceasefire

After a day of talks in Munich, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced last night that they had reached a tentative agreement for a ceasefire in Syria. Humanitarian access to wartorn areas is being discussed in a working group in Geneva today and the terms of a “cessation ...


After a day of talks in Munich, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced last night that they had reached a tentative agreement for a ceasefire in Syria. Humanitarian access to wartorn areas is being discussed in a working group in Geneva today and the terms of a “cessation of hostilities” will be drawn up and possibly implemented next week. Kerry and Lavrov will co-chair task forces that will monitor and ensure humanitarian access and violations of the ceasefire when it takes effect. “The real test is whether or not all the parties honor those commitments and implement them,” Kerry said.

Under increasing pressure from the Russian-backed regime offensive in Aleppo, Syrian rebels are shifting tactics, according to reports. Rebels are shifting away from trying to hold territory, some have told press, and are focusing on guerilla attacks where possible.

Saudi Arabia Warns U.N. and Aid Organizations as Offensive Nears Sanaa

With Saudi-backed pro-government forces nearing the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, the Saudi government sent notices to U.N. and aid agencies telling them to relocate their operations in Yemen out of Houthi-controlled regions “in order for the Coalition forces to guarantee the safety and security of the international organizations.” The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs responded with a letter reminding Saudi Arabia of its obligations to allow humanitarian access under international law and the U.N.’s intention to continue working through Saudi Arabia’s established deconfliction procedure. Pro-government troops captured the Fardhat Nahm military camp from Houthi fighters yesterday, bringing them within 40 miles of Sanaa.


  • Yesterday, at a meeting of the military coalition intervening against the Islamic State, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates pledged to renew their participation in airstrikes in Iraq and Syria and said they would send a contingent of special operations forces to operate on the ground.


  • Of the approximately $100 billion in frozen assets recently made available to Iran under the nuclear agreement, more than $50 billion “is already tied up” in debts incurred by Iran, according to Stephen Mull, the U.S. diplomat in charge of implementing the nuclear deal.


  • Hamas’ execution of Muhammad Eshtaiwi, a commander in the organizations’ Kassem Brigades, has led to the formation of a splinter group; the new group calls itself the “Free Kassem Brigade” and has pledged loyalty to Hamas’ political leader, Khaled Mashaal.


  • Six people were killed and two others wounded when a gunman opened fire at an educational office in Ad Dair, in southwest Saudi Arabia; the attacker was arrested at the scene but there have not been reports of his motive.


  • More than 4,000 Iraqi refugees have canceled their applications for asylum in Finland and are voluntarily leaving the country; the Finnish government has begun chartering flights to Baghdad for their return.

Arguments and Analysis

Obama Proposes Removing Human Rights Conditions on Aid to Egypt” (Issandr El Amrani, The Arabist)

“In short, the Obama administration does not want in any way to publicly chastise the Sisi regime. At best — and let’s face it this is a stretch –it’s because it feels taking up these issues privately with Cairo is more effective. Yes, because that has worked so well in the past. It would be nice if the administration just came out publicly and said it can’t be bothered, does not want headaches, and is fully supportive of the regime in Egypt no matter what it does. It would have much greater success in pleasing the Egyptians, which appears to be the chief goal, and put an end to the distracting and dishonest debate about supporting democracy or human rights. The damage here is not just the refusal to take a public political stance on what’s going on in a key ally and major recipient of US largesse, but perhaps chiefly the ongoing abandonment of previous commitments to keep an eye on these issues and the making of concession after concession to the Sisi regime with apparently nothing in return. It’s a small thing in the big scheme of things (see Russia and Aleppo), but exemplifies the amateurish, bureaucratically-driven, and irresolute aspects of Obama’s foreign policy at its weakest.”


How to Reverse Five Years of Failure on Bahrain: Blueprint for U.S. Government Policy” (Human Rights First)

“In May 2013, the State Department issued a document entitled ‘U.S. Support for Human Rights Defenders,’ which made headway in addressing concerns of inconsistent engagement by embassies with civil society and in setting realistic expectations about what the United States can and cannot do to assist human rights defenders. It is a useful document for diplomats and civil society in outlining the sorts of actions U.S. officials can take to support activists. But almost three years later, it has still not been translated into Arabic, the U.S. Embassy in Manama has not posted it on its website, and few Bahraini human rights defenders have even heard of it. The presidential memorandum on ‘Deepening U.S. Government Efforts to Collaborate with and Strengthen Civil Society,’ issued in September 2014, was another welcome measure, but its effect on activists’ lived experience in Bahrain has been limited. The administration’s rhetorical commitment to help civil society, especially those in repressive countries, has not translated into engagement with Bahraini civil society by other parts of the U.S. government beyond the traditional elements in the State Department. The Department of Defense has not demonstrated its shared responsibility for challenging undue restrictions on civil society and continues to issue statements praising the military partnership between Bahrain and the United States.”

-J. Dana Stuster


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