Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena
Wednesday, January 27, 2016, 2:23 PM

In preparation for the upcoming peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition groups, set to begin Friday, the United Nations’ special envoy to Syria issued formal invitations for the discussions. Calling the lack of information disclosed about the invited parties as an “odd diplomatic dance,” the New York Times writes that “it is not only unclear who will come, but it is also unknown whether they are even close to ready to make the compromises necessary to reduce the suffering of Syrian civilians even slightly.” The Syrian government has agreed to participate in the discussions, but the opposition “is awaiting clarification on key points from the United Nations” before deciding whether or not to attend, Reuters tells us. Foreign Policy adds that the main opposition coalition “will not participate in peace talks until the Syrian government and its allies halt attacks against civilians, lift the sieges, and provide humanitarian access to distressed civilians” as outlined in the December 2015 resolution.

Meanwhile, after months of operations by Russian-backed government and allied forces, a U.S.-supported rebel group suffered a loss of Sheikh Miskeen, a key town located at the crossroads of a supply route between Damascus and the Jordanian border which was taken by Syrian forces. The government victory could further complicate the impending peace talks.

In Israel, a woman died from injuries after being stabbed by two Palestinian assailants on Monday. Another woman was wounded in the incident before guards shot both attackers dead. The BBC tells us that 28 Israelis and 155 Palestinians have been killed since October.

The U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Israeli settlements built in occupied Palestinian territories as “an affront to the Palestinian people and to the international community.” Calling into question the Israeli commitment to a two-state solution, Ban also suggested that the ongoing violence was a result of Palestinian “frustration.” He added that “it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.” The insinuation drew a strong rebuke from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who said that the “remarks provide a tailwind for terrorism.” The Israeli prime minister also suggested that the “United Nations long ago lost its neutrality and its moral force.” The U.N. Secretary General’s remarks added to increasing international criticism of Israel and its policies under Netanyahu.

In an effort to promote an “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned’ reconciliation process, China has urged Afghanistan to restart peace talks with the Taliban. Previous talks were stalled when it was revealed that former Taliban leader Mullah Omar had been dead for two years, a revelation which caused factions within the insurgent group. The Taliban has gained ground in Afghanistan since then. Most recently, ten police officers were killed by a colleague after being poisoned and then shot by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan’s southern province of Oruzgan. Taliban insurgents also damaged a major power line which carried electricity from Uzbekistan to Kabul.

As the violence continues across the country, the Washington Post writes that “U.S. military commanders, who only a few months ago were planning to pull the last American troops out of Afghanistan by year’s end, are now quietly talking about an American commitment that could keep thousands of troops in the country for decades.”

The Times also reports that “Afghanistan has failed to remedy a series of chronic human rights abuses ranging from the torture of prisoners by security forces to brutal mistreatment of women,” as revealed in a recent 659-page report from Human Rights Watch.

Iranian president Hassan Rouhani is visiting Europe this week in efforts to broaden economic and diplomatic relations following the nuclear deal. As Rouhani arrives in France, the BBC tells us that the Iranian president “is expected to secure valuable trade deals following the lifting of international sanctions over Iran's nuclear programme.” The Times has more.

Meanwhile, Iran warned a U.S. naval ship to leave waters near the Strait of Hormuz, an area where the Iranian navy was reportedly “testing submarines, destroyers and missile launchers.” An Iranian commander said that the U.S. ship left the area after the warning.

A U.N. panel of experts released their findings on Yemen. The panel concluded that the Security Council should create a commission of inquiry to look into alleged human rights abuses committed by all parties to the Yemeni conflict. The report finds that “not a single humanitarian pause to alleviate the suffering of the Yemeni people has been fully observed by any Yemeni party or by the coalition” and points to the targeting of civilian objects by Saudi-led coalition strikes as evidence of violations of international humanitarian law.

According to the Guardian, the panel uncovered “‘widespread and systematic’ attacks on civilian targets in violation of international humanitarian law” in its investigation of the Saudi-led bombing campaign. The panel’s conclusions have raised questions about the United Kingdom’s “arms exports to Saudi Arabia and the role of British military advisers.”

The New York Times reports that hundreds have disappeared in Egypt in what human rights groups refer to as “enforced disappearance” as the Egyptian government cracks down on “real or imagined” political opponents.

Secretary of State John Kerry and his Chinese counterpart have agreed to push forward with a U.N. resolution condemning North Korea for its latest nuclear test, but disagreements persist as to the extent North Korea will be sanctioned, the Washington Post tells us. While the United States is pushing for increased sanctions, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stated that “sanctions are not an end in themselves” and that the “goal should be to bring the nuclear issue on the Korea Peninsula back to the negotiating track.” For his part, Kerry highlighted the “need to agree on the meaningful steps necessary to get the achievement of the goal.”

The two foreign ministers also discussed the South China Sea and the need to diffuse tension in the region. While Kerry urged China to halt the construction of airstrips in the Sea, Wang suggested that Chinese activities in the area should not be interpreted as militarization and stated that “China has given a commitment of not engaging in so-called militarization.”

Meanwhile, U.S. officials have strongly condemned Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou's plan to visit a disputed island in the South China Sea,” referring to the planned visit as "extremely unhelpful" with respect to the current tensions in the region. The BBC has more.

Over in France, Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned from her post following her opposition to French President François Hollande’s “hardline security clampdown that had sought to confer more emergency powers on police and local officials and away from the legal process.” According to the Guardian, the move is expected to clear “the way for Hollande’s high-stakes bid to enshrine special emergency measures into the French constitution.”

Samy Mohamed Hamzeh, a 23 year-old man from Milwaukee, was arrested after attempting to buy a machine gun to attack a Masonic temple. The 23 year-old was charged with unlawful possession of a machine gun. The Associated Press reports that the “FBI recorded conversations between Hamzeh and two federal informants talking about an attack on a Masonic temple in Milwaukee” in what he considered to be a defense of the Muslim religion.

One man was killed and eight others were detained in connection to the armed seizure of the federal wildlife refuge in Oregon. The Times tells us that the confrontation occurred during a traffic stop which followed “more than three weeks of growing tension and anxiety that put the tiny community of Burns — about a five-hour drive from Portland — into an international debate about homegrown right-wing militias, public lands and constitutional rights.” According to the LA times, those detained “face a federal felony charge of conspiracy to impede federal officers through the use of force, intimidation or threats, authorities said.” Protesters occupying the facility have been urged to leave by authorities.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the National Security Council’s records will not be subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. Suggesting that the decision “upholds decades of precedents,” the Hill tells us that the panel of three judges denied an appeal which sought “records from all National Security Council meetings in 2011 and all records related to U.S. targeted drone strikes.” Politico has more on the decision.

The D.C. Bar’s Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed ethics charges against Thomas Tamm, the former Department of Justice attorney who alerted the New York Times in 2004 of the Bush Administration's use of wiretapping without a warrant.

Parting Shot: Feeling voyeuristic? The Daily Dot takes a look at a website that posts screenshots from vulnerable security cameras. Hinting at the underlying vulnerabilities in the Internet of Things design process, the Daily Dot tells that “if it seems like there's a new IoT security vulnerability unveiled before the last one you heard about is even patched, it's because while manufacturers are trying to connect pretty much every aspect of your life to the Internet as cheaply as possible.”

ICYMI: Yesterday, on Lawfare

Ben shared a new report on "Hostile Drones: The Hostile Use of Drones By Non-State Actors Against British Targets."

Laura Dean wrote Omphalos’ second dispatch in which she considers the plight of Syrian refugees seeking basic security.

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