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March 31, 2016
Assad ‘willing to form new government’ with opposition
- Russia and US 'planning military coordination against ISIS in Syria'
- ISIS commander killed in drone strike near Raqqa
- Losing momentum in delivering aid to Syria, Egeland says
- Turkish army ‘ready’ to shell YPG positions if it crosses Azaz-Jarablus line
- Turkish army rules out 'anti-Erdogan coup'


Assad ‘willing to form new government’ with opposition
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has said it would not be difficult to agree on a new government including opposition figures, but his opponents responded on Wednesday that no administration would be legitimate while he remained in office. Assad said a new draft constitution could be ready in weeks and a government that included opposition, independents, and loyalists could be agreed upon. Opposition negotiators immediately dismissed Assad’s remarks, saying that a political settlement could be reached only by establishing a transitional body with full powers, not another government under Assad. “What Bashar al-Assad is talking about has no relation to the political process,” said George Sabra of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC). The United States also rejected Assad’s comments. “I don’t know whether he envisioned himself being a part of that national unity government. Obviously that would be a nonstarter for us,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. Meanwhile, the Kremlin denied a report by the al-Hayat newspaper on an agreement between Russia and the United States including Assad's departure to another country at some unspecified stage. [Reuters, BBC, 3/31/2016]

Russia and US 'planning military coordination against ISIS in Syria'
Signs of wider military cooperation in Syria have emerged as Russia revealed that discussions have taken place about coordinating the liberation of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) stronghold of Raqqa in conjunction with the United States. Co-chairman of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) Salih Muslim Muhammad said that preparations for launching an ISIS exterminating operation in Aleppo has begun. The revelation follows visits to Moscow this month by US Secretary of state John Kerry and CIA Director John Brennan. “Preparations are finished, we now await aerial shield to be provided by international US-led coalition aircrafts to initiate confrontation,” PYD official Ahmed abu Omar, a commander of “Jaysh al-Thowar” (Army of Rebels) division within the PYD armed forces, said. [Asharq al-Awsat, Guardian, 3/31/2016]

ISIS commander killed in drone strike near Raqqa
On Thursday, a drone strike near Raqqa killed an ISIS commander who was heading to Aleppo province on orders from the organization’s chief. His death is the latest in a series of blows to the group in recent weeks, and comes days after Russian-backed Syrian government forces recaptured Palmyra. Abu Al Hija, a high-ranking Tunisian ISIS commander, was killed in a strike by a drone that was “most likely operated by the US-led coalition," the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. According to SOHR he had travelled to Syria from Iraq just 24 hours earlier at the behest of ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. [AFP, 3/31/2016]

Losing momentum in delivering aid to Syria, Egeland says
The United Nations voiced concern Thursday that it is losing momentum in gaining access to deliver aid to besieged areas in Syria, with convoys delayed or surgical equipment being removed. "We still have not gotten access, a greenlight to go at all to Douma, Daraya, east Harasta - three areas," Jan Egeland, chairman of the task force, said after a major and regional powers meeting to review progress. But he was confident that the UN World Food Program (WFP) would be able to start regular air drops of vital supplies to the 200,000 people trapped in ISIS-held Deir Ezzor in the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) conference in Geneva, aimed at securing new homes for nearly half a million Syrian refugees, ended Wednesday with only marginal increases in the number of resettlement places offered. UNHCR said from the outset that it did not anticipate governments would make significant new pledges at the conference. In a statement, UNHCR noted said it remained far from its goal of having confirmed new countries of residency for 10 percent of Syria's 4.8 million refugees — or 480,000 people — within three years. [Reuters, 3/31/2016]

Turkish army ‘ready’ to shell YPG positions if it crosses Azaz-Jarablus line
Ankara is closely following reports of a planned operation by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the northern Syrian town of Manbij, held by fighters of ISIS, Turkish military officials have stated, expressing readiness to shell Syrian Kurdish forces in the event of a violation of “Turkey’s red line.” Confirming recent moves in the region, military sources said Turkey would launch the “required response” from inside Turkish territory in the event of seizure of the so-called “Azaz-Jarablus line” by the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the militia forces of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), both of which are regarded as offshoots of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). In such a case, Turkish artillery units deployed near the border would launch intense fire at the PYD forces, the sources said on March 30. [Hurriyet, 3/31/2016]

Turkish army rules out 'anti-Erdogan coup'
The Turkish army says it has no plans to stage a coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and has threatened legal action against anyone who suggests otherwise. The rare statement aims to squash speculation over the possibility of a military coup in Turkey as the president visits the United States. The military said on its website such "baseless news" was hurting morale in its ranks without naming specific publications. “Discipline, absolute obedience and single order command is essential in the Turkish Armed Forces. It is not possible for there to be any concessions to any illegal and out-of-command chain hierarchy establishment or action,” said the statement, adding that a legal process had been initiated and a criminal complaint filed against those who published news stories and comments spreading the allegations. In the statement, the Turkish Armed Forces emphasized that it voices its “loyalty to democracy” at every opportunity and that such “baseless” allegations “naturally demoralize military personnel.” [AP, Hurriyet, 3/31/2016]

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