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April 1, 2016
Death toll from east Damascus airstrikes rises to more than 30
Rebels drop leaflets over Syrian capital from drones
Canada to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees
Syrian held for smuggling migrants to Cyprus
Turkey forcibly returned hundreds of Syrian refugees to war zone

Death toll from east Damascus airstrikes rises to more than 30
The death toll from air strikes in the Deir al-Asafir district southeast of Damascus has risen to more than 30, mostly women and children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) and the White Helmet civil defense group. The strikes Thursday, which SOHR said were carried out by Syrian aircraft, came despite a month-long "cessation of hostilities" in Syria between government forces and their opponents, excluding the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front. Air strikes continued in the area on Friday. Two strikes hit the outskirts of Deir al-Asafir and at least seven hit the village of Bala, SOHR said. The US State Department said it was appalled by the reported air strikes. "We condemn in the strongest terms any such attacks directed at civilians," spokesman John Kirby said. France condemned the attack Friday and said it violated the truce. "This abject act is designed to terrorize the Syrian people and sap efforts by the international community to find a political solution," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said. [Reuters, 4/1/2016]

Rebels drop leaflets over Syrian capital from drones
The most powerful rebel group operating around Damascus has flown drones over the Syrian capital, reportedly dropping propaganda leaflets in the first opposition operation of the kind since the start of the civil war. Pro-rebel media outlets covered the unprecedented incident Thursday, with All4Syria claiming that “modified reconnaissance aircraft” belonging to Jaish al-Islam “cruised the skies of Damascus and dropped leaflets, [mostly] on the eastern neighborhoods” of the capital. Pro-regime media made no mention of the leaflets, while SOHR tracking developments in the war-torn country did not report on the purported incident. Jaysh al-Islam has yet to issue a statement on the matter, however officials in the insurgent faction spoke with opposition outlets on the alleged operation. Hamzeh Bayrakdar, a spokesperson for Jaysh al-Islam’s general staff, told Syria Mubasher news that the drones dropped “20,000 leaflets” over a number of Damascus areas: including the famed Old City, the upscale Muhajireen quarter near the presidential palace, and the Aash al-Warour district on the foothills of Mount Qasioun. The spokesperson claimed that the aircraft returned safely to their take-off points, adding further that they weren’t exposed to anti-aircraft fire since they took regime forces by “surprise.” [NOW, Syrian Observer, 4/1/2016]

Canada to take in 10,000 more Syrian refugees
Canada will take in an additional 10,000 Syrian refugees, adding to the more than 25,000 already received in the last few months, Immigration Minister John McCallum said on Thursday in Germany, where an influx of refugees has sparked a backlash. McCallum told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp he was responding to complaints from Canadian groups who want to sponsor Syrian refugees but did not have their applications processed quickly enough to be among the government's initial target of 25,000. "We are doing everything we can to accommodate the very welcomed desire on the part of Canadians to sponsor refugees," McCallum said in a phone interview with CBC News from Berlin, where he is meeting with the German interior minister. [Reuters, Guardian, Asharq al-Awsat, 3/31/2016]

Syrian held for smuggling migrants to Cyprus
A Syrian was remanded in custody in Cyprus on Friday on suspicion of smuggling migrants after coastguards rescued 28 people from a small boat that had been adrift for days. The 41-year-old suspect was among the mostly Syrian people who were brought safely to shore on Thursday evening after patrol vessels responded to a distress call off the island's west coast. He appeared in court on Friday and was remanded in police custody for eight days on suspicion of migrant smuggling and helping third country nationals enter the island illegally. Police said the boat had left the Turkish coastal town of Alanya for Cyprus on Tuesday but had run out of fuel. The Turkish captain, who had been paid 2,000 euros ($2,200) a head for the voyage, had abandoned ship, the refugees said. The 27 passengers -- 18 men, six women and three children, all said to be in good health -- are being cared for at a reception centre outside the capital Nicosia. Although it lies just 100 kilometres (60 miles) off the coast of Syria, EU member Cyprus has so far avoided a mass influx of refugees from the war-torn country. But as Greece prepares to start sending migrants back to Turkey on Monday under a controversial March 18 deal between the EU and Ankara, there have been concerns that other migration routes will open up. [AFP, 4/1/2016]

Turkey forcibly returned hundreds of Syrian refugees to war zone
Amnesty International says Turkey has forcibly returned hundreds of Syrian refugees to their homeland since mid-January. It said this practice exposes "fatal flaws" in an agreement between Turk and the European Union. The organization says its research on the Turkish-Syrian border suggests that around 100 Syrians —who often have not registered in Turkey— are expelled from Turkey each day. Advocacy groups are concerned that the deal, including the UNHCR, which aims to stem the flow of illegal migrants and goes into effect April 4, threatens the rights of asylum seekers, and they question whether Turkey is a safe country for them. The EU-Turkey deal stipulates the return to Turkey of any Syrian refugee arriving on the Greek islands, to be offset by resettling a Turkey-based Syrian in the EU. "Far from pressuring Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees, the EU is in fact incentivizing the opposite," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's director for Europe and Central Asia. [AP, AFP, BBC, 4/1/2016]

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