Report

Some Syrian Opposition Negotiators to Stay in Geneva for Talks Next Week

The Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee will keep a group of “technical experts” in Geneva next week to discuss humanitarian aid delivery, despite withdrawing from the U.N.-brokered indirect talks. Syria’s deputy foreign minister said Thursday that the Assad regime will respect the country’s partial ceasefire, but on Friday morning a government airstrike hit rebel-held neighborhood ...

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The Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee will keep a group of “technical experts” in Geneva next week to discuss humanitarian aid delivery, despite withdrawing from the U.N.-brokered indirect talks. Syria’s deputy foreign minister said Thursday that the Assad regime will respect the country’s partial ceasefire, but on Friday morning a government airstrike hit rebel-held neighborhood of Aleppo, killing at least 10 people, and concerns remain over new movement of Russian artillery. “It’s understandable that the opposition felt unable to stay further given sustained regime attacks on Syrian civilians and continuation of siege and starvation tactics,” one Western diplomat told Reuters. “Those who back the regime need to get a leash on them.” Russia’s foreign minister responded to the HNC’s withdrawal from talks today by saying the opposition’s move would only hurt themselves.

In Syria, fifty Assad regime troops surrendered to Kurdish forces in the city of Qamishli after the Kurdish forces captured a prison in which the pro-government troops were holding out. Qamishli has been the site of intense clashes this week, including a possible Islamic State suicide bombing.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Moscow yesterday, at least partly to discuss two incidents in which Russian forces fired on Israeli warplanes along the Israel-Syria border. Israel and Russia reached an arrangement for military deconfliction in Syria last year, and  when Israeli President Reuven Rivlin raised concerns last month Russian President Vladimir Putin said that he had not heard about the incidents.

Yemen Peace Talks Off to Shaky Start in Kuwait

Peace talks to resolve the Yemeni civil war formally began yesterday in Kuwait when the delegation representing the Houthi rebels arrived after a four-day delay. The discussion will focus on five points drawn from a U.N. Security Council resolution, according the U.N. Yemen envoy Ould Cheikh Ahmed, including the withdrawal of Houthi forces from major cities and the formation of an inclusive government. Turkish banks said yesterday that they have frozen the assets of ousted Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in accordance with U.N. sanctions. Saleh’s support has been critical to the Houthis’ success.

Headlines

  • Libya’s Tobruk-based government carried out airstrikes in support of local forces fighting the Islamic State in Derna, pushing militants out of two neighborhoods.

 

  • A new investigation by Reuters has confirmed that Italian student Giulio Regini was arrested and held by the Egyptian homeland security agency before his death; the story is sourced to 6 Egyptian police and intelligence officers with knowledge of Regini’s arrest.

 

  • Four Turkish academics went on trial today for signing a petition opposing the government’s conflict with Kurdish rebels; at least 200 protesters, including some opposition politicians, rallied outside the courthouse in Istanbul.

 

  • Saudi Arabia is set to sign a five-year $10 billion loan from a collection of U.S. and Asian banks, its first in 25 years; the move comes as Saudi Arabia introduces a new plan for economic restructuring.

 

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other European Union officials will travel to the Turkey-Syria border this weekend in a show of support for the EU-Turkey refugee deal.

Arguments and Analysis

The $2 Trillion Project to Get Saudi Arabia’s Economy Off Oil” (Peter Waldman, Bloomberg)

“‘From the first 12 hours, decisions were issued,’ says Prince Mohammed. ‘In the first 10 days, the entire government was restructured.’ He spoke for eight hours over two interviews in Riyadh that provide a rare glimpse of the thinking of a new kind of Middle East potentate — one who tries to emulate Steve Jobs, credits video games with sparking ingenuity, and works 16-hour days in a land with no shortage of sinecures. Last year there was near-panic among the prince’s advisers as they discovered Saudi Arabia was burning through its foreign reserves faster than anyone knew, with insolvency only two years away. Plummeting oil revenue had resulted in an almost $200 billion budget shortfall — a preview of a future in which the Saudis’ only viable export can no longer pay the bills, whether because of shale oil flooding the market or climate change policies. Historically, the kingdom has relied on the petroleum sector for 90 percent of the state budget, almost all its export earnings, and more than half its gross domestic product.”

 

Failed State: Can a Unity Government Succeed in Divided Libya?” (Der Spiegel)

“In Tunis, Kobler shows Libyan newspaper cartoons that he’s saved on his mobile phone. One depicts Kobler as a puppeteer pulling the strings on “Unity Prime Minister” Sarraj. Another shows Sarraj dropping into Tripoli by UN parachute. The criticism is clear: The new government is being steered from abroad and the United Nations is perceived in the country to be a tool of the West. But Kobler is pushing forward with his plan. He wants to organize tribal councils across the country and persuade local leaders to follow the new government. Although a majority in western Libya support the UN compromise and the national unity government, the government in the east is still putting up significant resistance. Should that not change, the UN plan could actually deepen the country’s divisions — and local warlords and IS supporters would be the ones to profit.”

-J. Dana Stuster

FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images

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