– Aid heads for starving Syrian town Madaya
– Toll in Russia raids on Nusra Front-run Syria jail rises to 81
– Nusra Front briefly abducts prominent media activists
– Syria regime advances on rebels’ main Latakia stronghold 
– Iraq forces evacuate hundreds of civilians from Ramadi
– Turkey plans to issue work permits for Syrians

Aid heads for starving Syrian town Madaya
Dozens of aid trucks headed on Monday to the besieged rebel-held Syrian town of Madaya, where some 42,000 people are living under a government siege. It comes after the Doctors Without Borders (MSF) charity said some 28 people had died of starvation in Madaya since December 1. Forty-four trucks operated by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Syrian Red Crescent, the United Nations, and World Food Programme left from Damascus for Madaya on Monday afternoon. The trucks are carrying food, water, infant formula, blankets, and medication for acute and chronic illnesses, as well as surgical supplies. Earlier, 21 trucks carrying similar supplies left for the government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya, which are under rebel siege in the northwest of the country. Even as aid convoys head to parts of Syria, government forces are tightening a new siege on another rebel-held town Moadamiya, a suburb of Damascus. [AFP, BBC, AP, 1/11/2016]

Toll in Russia raids on Nusra Front-run Syria jail rises to 81
At least 81 people were killed in Russian strikes on a prison complex run by the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front in Syria’s northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human RIghts (SOHR) said Sunday in a new toll. The strikes on Saturday targeted a Nusra Front building near a popular market in northwestern Idlib province. The complex in Maarat al-Numan housed the group’s religious court and a jail. The dead included 23 Nusra fighters and six non-jihadist rebels who were in the building. Another 52 people—including civilians and prisoners in the complex—were also killed. At least one child and two women were among the civilians killed in the strikes. [AFP, 1/11/2016]

Nusra Front briefly abducts prominent media activists
Syria’s al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front briefly detained two of the country’s most prominent media activists who worked at a radio station in the northwestern Idlib province on Sunday, their employer said. Raed Fares and Hadi al-Abdallah were released about 12 hours after their abduction, Fresh FM said in a statement posted on Facebook. SOHR confirmed the release, saying the Nusra Front freed the pair after “interrogating them.” SOHR head Rami Abdel Rahman said they had been arrested because the radio had “broadcast content against Islamic law, like songs, in violation of an agreement” with the group. [AFP, NOW, 1/11/2016]

Syria regime advances on rebels’ main Latakia stronghold
Syrian regime forces backed by Hezbollah have continued to gain ground in the mountains north of Latakia, advancing around the rebels’ main stronghold in the rugged region amid intense Russian bombardment. In the past hours, pro-regime troops have advanced on four axes of attacks around the village of Salma, a heavily fortified mountain redoubt that overlooks vital rebel supply lines linking the Latakia and Aleppo provinces. SOHR reported Monday morning that intense clashes had raged overnight around the Sunni-populated area, which was first seized by Free Syrian Army brigades in mid-2012. “Information suggests that there have been a large amount of human losses in the ranks of both sides,” SOHR added. [NOW, 1/11/2016]

Iraq forces evacuate hundreds of civilians from Ramadi
Iraqi forces evacuated 635 civilians from Ramadi Sunday as they continued to clear the city two weeks after declaring victory against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), security officials said. Federal forces retook the strategic government compound in the center of the capital of Anbar province late last month but they have yet to assert full control over the city. “Forces from the counter-terrorism service and the Anbar police evacuated 635 civilians,” said Major General Sami Kadhem al-Aredhi, a commander of elite troops in Ramadi. He said the civilians had been trapped in areas where ISIS fighters are still present in Sichariyah and Sufiya, on the eastern outskirts of Ramadi. They were taken to a camp in Habbaniyah, east of Ramadi, to join hundreds of other families displaced from Ramadi by the fighting. On Saturday, Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi said most areas are under control of the security forces but that “[m]ost of the streets in Ramadi are mined with explosives so it requires large efforts and expertise.” He indicated that specialized bomb disposal teams would begin work to clear these streets “soon.”  [AFP, 1/10/2016]

Turkey plans to issue work permits for Syrians
Ankara is planning to offer Syrian refugees work permits in order to encourage fewer of them to migrate to Europe, Turkish EU Minister Volkan Bozkir said on January 11 after talks with European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans. Turkey, still in its EU accession process, struck a deal with the EU in November 2015 to prevent migrants from traveling to Europe in return for 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) in cash, a deal on visas, and renewed talks on joining the 28-nation bloc. Minister Bozkir’s statement came around a month after the International Labor Organization (ILO) stressed the need for a comprehensive measures to regulate the employment of Syrian refugees in Turkey as well as to minimize the negative impact on the local labor market and to turn the issue into an opportunity rather than a threat. “The employment of Syrians is already a reality on the ground. In the absence of the possibility to work legally, they are working informal, low-quality, low-paid jobs, pushing wages down for the local population and endangering workplace peace,” said ILO Turkey Office head Numan Ozcan at the launch of the report. [Hurriyet, Reuters, Sabah, 1/11/2016]