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Report

Clashes between Assad Regime and Islamic State Continue Near Damascus

Assad regime forces claim to have rebuffed an attack by the Islamic State on the Tishrin power station northeast of Damascus. The Islamic State also targeted regime forces near the Dumeir military airport, killing 12 troops. The assault was seen as a response to Islamic State losses near Palmyra, and regime forces counterattacked by bombarding ...

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Assad regime forces claim to have rebuffed an attack by the Islamic State on the Tishrin power station northeast of Damascus. The Islamic State also targeted regime forces near the Dumeir military airport, killing 12 troops. The assault was seen as a response to Islamic State losses near Palmyra, and regime forces counterattacked by bombarding Dumeir, killing at least 15 civilians according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Islamic State militants also fired shells across the Syria-Turkey border into the town of Kilis, wounding as many as three people. The United States has stepped up its strikes against Jabhat al-Nusra, the Syrian al-Qaeda affiliate. A strike on Sunday targeted Nusra spokesman Abu Firas al-Suri as he met with leaders of another radical group, and another strike on Tuesday killed five Nusra members traveling in a car in Idlib.

In Iraq, the U.S. military is considering setting up more firebases to support Iraqi forces preparing to retake Mosul. Human Rights Watch has called on the Iraqi government to allow aid into the besieged Islamic State-occupied city of Fallujah, where acute food shortages are affecting the local population.

Tripoli-based Libyan Government Backtracks on Plan to Step Down

Libya’s Tripoli-based National Salvation Government has quickly backed away from its plan to dissolve and clear the way for the U.N.-backed unity government, know as the Government of National Accord, to take control. A statement from National Salvation Prime Minister Khalifa Ghweil, posted on his personal website, asks his government ministers “to continue your mission in accordance with the law” and threatens to prosecute ministers who cooperate with the unity government. Ghweil’s statement contradicts an announcement posted on the National Salvation Government’s Facebook page on Tuesday that said the government would dissolve in support of the Government of National Accord to prevent further violence.

Headlines

  • Cyprus will extradite Seif al-Din Mohamed Mostafa to Egypt; Mostafa hijacked a March 29 Alexandria-to-Cairo EgyptAir flight, threatening to detonate a fake explosive vest.

 

  • Militants in conflict-ridden countries across the Middle East are using Facebook as an “online bazaar” for advanced weapons, including heavy machine guns, anti-aircraft weapons, and even surface-to-air missiles, in violation of Facebook policies, the New York Times and Armament Research Service report.

 

  • The United States is considering moving some of its peacekeeping forces in the Sinai from a base in the north, near where the Egyptian military has been clashing with Islamic State militants, to a position in the south; the peacekeepers are deployed to monitor the peace between Egypt and Israel and U.S. officials say the shift would not affect the troops’ ability to carry out their mission.

 

  • An Iranian delegation will travel to Saudi Arabia to discuss new arrangements and precautions for the hajj after stampedes killed hundreds of pilgrims last September, many of them Iranians; Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in January.

 

  • The Saudi airstrike that killed 119 people at a marketplace in Mastaba, Yemen, on March 15 was carried out with a U.S.-supplied GBU-31 satellite-guided bomb, according to findings from a Human Rights Watch investigation of the strike.

 

  • The first Syrian family to arrive in the United States under a “surge” resettlement program has been placed in Kansas City, MO, after fleeing Homs, Syria, and living in Jordan for three years.

Arguments and Analysis

The United States can’t save Egypt from Itself” (Tamara Cofman Wittes, Markaz)

“It’s long past time for the United States to undertake a strategic review of its approach to the Middle East, one focused on building anchors of stability and sustaining reliable partners in pursuit of American priorities. Egypt, as I told The New York Times, no longer qualifies as either one. That doesn’t mean the two countries can’t continue to work together in those narrow areas where they agree on interests, priorities, and approaches. But Secretary of State Kerry’s public embrace last week of Egyptian Foreign Minister Shoukry cannot hide the facts — there is no “back to business” option for the U.S.-Egyptian relationship, and it seems increasingly clear that even direct White House engagement would not shift Egypt’s leadership off of its self-destructive trajectory. Egypt’s looming instability demands that the United States take steps now to safeguard itself from reliance on a country we cannot rescue, not least from its own leaders’ worst impulses.”

 

Alawite identity in Syria” (H.A. Hellyer, SyriaSource)

“The timing of the document is significant, even while the writers state in their opening that they wrote the document not because of any specific events but because ‘for far too long, [we have been] defined with the words of others rather our own.’ The Syrian regime’s power position at present is more comfortable than at other times in the past, and retribution against the authors remains a likely possibility — but the document was still released. At the same time, within the West, there is a powerful intellectual trend that deems the Syrian regime as indispensable for the survival of the Alawite community, and that the regime’s defeat would spell the extinction of Alawites as a result of widespread support for the regime among that community. This document may be aimed at convincing that trend that support for Assad even among Alawites ought not to be taken for granted. In general, the authors refuse to be considered a minority community because minority status is a barrier to their ability to integrate with the larger Syrian community. Rather, they see a Syria where Syrian patriotism is the defining attribute of Syrian citizenship. Moreover, their emphasis on rejecting a sense of Alawite victimhood on the one hand, and disassociating themselves from the current regime of Damascus could, coupled with the religious re-association integral to the text, define the next phase of Alawite religion. But much of that depends on political realities on the ground — and Syria is nothing if not complex.”

-J. Dana Stuster

JOSEPH EID/AFP/Getty Images

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