– World powers push for lifting sieges in Syria 
– Second aid convoy departs for besieged Syrian communities 
– Lebanon turns back on Syrian refugees 
– Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkish artillery hit ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria
– Iraq receives Saudi envoy credentials despite anti-Riyadh anger
– US Special Forces ‘now in place’ in Iraq

World powers push for lifting sieges in Syria

Ahead of peace talks later this month, world powers will push for “immediate action” to deliver aid to besieged areas in Syria, the UN envoy said Wednesday. UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura announced the new diplomatic effort in a statement following talks in Geneva with ambassadors from the Security Council’s permanent members. During the meeting, de Mistura emphasized “the crucial importance for the people of Syria to see sustained and unimpeded access to a number of besieged areas in the lead-up to the talks” on January 25 in Geneva. [AFP, France24, Naharnet, 1/14/2016]

Second aid convoy departs for besieged Syrian communities
Humanitarian relief convoys have departed to deliver aid to three besieged Syrian towns for the second time this week, Syria’s state news agency, SANA, said on Thursday. A convoy of 44 trucks from the UN World Food Programme, International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC), and the Syrian Red Crescent has left for the rebel-held town of Madaya, which has been under siege for months by forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The trucks carried wheat, flour, cleaning materials, and some medical supplies. A similar aid convoy of 17 trucks headed to the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya, in the northern province of Idlib, which have been besieged by rebels. The Madaya convoy also included a nutritionist and health teams to assess the humanitarian situation, said Tarek Wheibi, spokesperson for the ICRC in Beirut. [AP, Daily Mail, Haaretz, 1/14/2016]

Lebanon turns back on Syrian refugees
After taking in a million Syrian refugees, Lebanon has quietly changed course in recent months. It is forcing refugees to return to Syria, where they are at risk of persecution or death. If Syrians choose to stay illegally, it leaves them vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The situation is drawing attention at a time when Turkey and Jordan have also tightened their admission policies. A Human Rights Watch report published Tuesday warned that Lebanon’s new regulations have “set the stage for a potentially explosive situation.” Lebanon last week forcibly repatriated 407 Syrians who were stranded at Beirut’s airport, after Turkey tightened its visa restrictions with little notice. Amnesty International called the action “an outrageous breach of Lebanon’s international obligations,” which require that it not return vulnerable people to a conflict zone. [AP, NYT, 1/14/2016]

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkish artillery hit ISIS positions in Iraq and Syria
Turkish tanks and artillery have attacked Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) positions in Iraq and in Syria in retaliation for the suicide bombing in Istanbul that killed ten tourists, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday. Davutoglu said that the military was given orders to carry out operations against ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria, shortly after they confirmed that the attack was carried out by the terrorist organization. He noted that around 500 artillery rounds were fired at ISIS positions in the last 48 hours, killing 200 terrorists in total, including so-called regional chiefs. “From now on, any threat directed against Turkey’s guests will be retaliated in kind” Davuto??lu said, and added that Turkey will continue to fight the terrorist organization until they completely leave Turkey’s borders.” [AP, NYT, Iraqi News, Reuters, Daily Sabah, 1/14/2016]

Iraq receives Saudi envoy credentials despite anti-Riyadh anger
Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari received the new Saudi ambassador’s credentials despite calls for his expulsion after Riyadh executed Nimr al-Nimr, a prominent Shia cleric, last week. Jaafari’s office said he met with Sabhan and discussed Iraqi-Saudi relations and Baghdad’s efforts to ease tensions between Riyadh and Tehran that exploded following the kingdom’s execution of al-Nimr. Thamer al-Sabhan is the first Baghdad-based Saudi ambassador in 25 years, after relations were cut following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. [Al Arabiya, Al Hurra, Yahoo, 1/14/2016]

US Special Forces ‘now in place’ in Iraq
Two hundred US Special Forces have arrived in Iraq to work with Iraqi forces pursuing ISIS targets, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday. The force is separate from another deployment last year of up to 50 US special operations troops in Syria to coordinate on the ground with US-backed rebels fighting in a civil war raging since 2011. [Al Arabiya, Reuters, 1/14/2016]