– Aid convoys reach besieged Syrian communities; some residents need medical evacuation
– Syria army enters rebel bastion in Latakia province
– Putin says premature to speak of asylum for Assad
– Iraq rocked by three major suicide bombings
– Ten dead, 15 wounded in Istanbul tourist district explosion

Aid convoys reach besieged Syrian communities; some residents need medical evacuation
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called for Monday’s delivery of aid to three besieged towns in Syria to be the first of many and welcomed a Syrian statement that such deliveries should be repeated and sustained. O’Brien told reporters that the arrival of convoys to help civilians, cut off for months by the war in Syria, must not be “either one-off or exceptional.” They must become the model for regular aid deliveries to civilians caught in conflict, which is a requirement under international law.An aid convoy brought food to 40,000 Madaya residents, but some 400 people in the besieged town needed to be urgently evacuated for medical treatment, O’Brien said. [NYT, Washington Post, BBC News, Naharnet, 1/12/2016]

Syria army enters rebel bastion in Latakia province
Syrian regime forces advanced Tuesday into the main bastion of rebels in the northwestern province of Latakia, the coastal heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s clan, a monitor said. Supported by pro-regime militias, Hezbollah fighters, and intense Russian air strikes, the army entered the town of Salma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of SOHR, said pro-government forces were locked in fierce fighting with rebels including Islamist hardliners Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Over the past 48 hours, more than 120 air strikes by Russian warplanes targeted Salma and its outskirts, SOHR reported. [AFP, AlArabiya 1/12/2016]

Putin says premature to speak of asylum for Assad
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, that it is too early to speak about granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia began carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters in September in support of Assad’s army. Critics say these strikes are aimed against Assad’s opponents. Russia, the United States, and Middle East nations are currently promoting talks between the Syrian government and the opposition. Putin said in an interview with the German daily Bild, that Moscow is advocating for constitutional reform in Syria and if the next election is democratic, “Assad won’t have to go anywhere, no matter if he is elected president or not.” [AP, AFP, 1/12/2016]

Iraq rocked by three major suicide bombings
Gunmen raided an eastern Baghdad shopping mall, killing at least 32 people and injuring 58, while a bomb rocked a busy market in the capital and further bombings killed at least 20 in Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad. The first attack saw gunmen detonate a car bomb before spraying gunfire in a crowded area and taking hostages in a shopping mall, Iraqi officials said. Iraqi officials said police raided the mall about half an hour after the attack, killing two attackers and arresting four others. Two bombs later went off in Muqdadiya, killing at least 23 people and wounding another 51, security and medical sources said. Another blast in a southeastern Baghdad suburb killed seven more. ISIS militants controlling swathes of Iraq’s north and west claimed responsibility for the attacks in Muqdadiya and at the Baghdad mall, targeting Shia Muslims. The US Department of State released a statement condemning the attacks. [BBC, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Reuters, 1/12/2016]

Ten dead, 15 wounded in Istanbul tourist district explosion
An explosion in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district has killed at least 10 people and injured 15 others. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was a 28-year-old Syrian national whose “connections” were being investigated. Nine out of the 10 killed were German, and recent reports have confirmed that six German citizens, one Norwegian and one Peruvian were among the wounded rushed to the hospital.  In a news conference in Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Today Istanbul was hit; Paris has been hit, Tunisia has been hit, Ankara has been hit before… International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the attacks, stating, “This incident has showed once again that we have to stand in full unity against terror.” A temporary broadcast ban has been imposed regarding the blast as investigations by police continue.  Officials said they believed the attack was the work of the ISIS militants, although no claim of responsibility has yet been made. [AP, Hurriyet, Guardian, 1/12/2016]