– Russia and Syria signed open-ended agreement on military presence 
– UNICEF confirms severe malnutrition in besieged Madaya 
– Russia says aid must be allowed into areas in Syria blockaded by militants
– United States, Russia agree January 25 Syria talks must go forward
– Iraqi force enters southern oil city to disarm tribal fighters
– Turkey detains academics who signed petition defending Kurds

Russia and Syria signed open-ended agreement on military presence
The Russian government on Thursday released the text of an agreement signed in Damascus on August 26, 2015, more than a month before Russia launched a bombing campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and other “terrorists” at the request of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad. The agreement was for “an open-ended period of time,” and Russia’s deployment of warplanes and personnel in Latakia in Syrian government-held territory came under its terms. The deal was made to defend the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and security of the Russian Federation and the Syrian Arab Republic,” according to the document. [AFP, 1/15/2016]

UNICEF confirms severe malnutrition in besieged Madaya
Aid was delivered this week to thousands of people affected by the months-long blockade. “UNICEF … can confirm that cases of severe malnutrition were found among children,” it said in a statement. UNICEF said that out of 25 children under the age of five screened by its staff and the World Health Organisation, 22 showed signs of “moderate to severe” malnutrition. Its staff also witnessed the death of a severely malnourished 16-year-old boy. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Thursday said Syria’s warring parties, particularly the government, were committing “atrocious acts.” He condemned the use of starvation as a weapon of war in the nearly five-year conflict. The United Nations says there are some 450,000 people trapped in around 15 siege locations across Syria, including in areas controlled by the government, ISIS, and other insurgent groups. Aid deliveries to Madaya came as part of an agreement between warring sides. [Reuters, Guardian, 1/15/2016]

Russia says aid must be allowed into areas in Syria blockaded by militants
The Russian Foreign Ministry called on Friday for all sides in the Syrian conflict to use their influence to ensure that humanitarian aid was delivered to areas blockaded by militants. It said the situation in three places—Madaya, Fuah, and Kafraya—was particularly concerning, saying they were besieged or blockaded by various militant groups. The ministry said it had been working with the Syrian government to try to help resolve the situation and had been encouraging them to cooperate with the United Nations. Also on Friday, Russia announced its launch of humanitarian operations in Syria where it is carrying out a bombing campaign against ISIS, reporting it delivered aid to besieged Syrians in Deir Ezzor and claiming peaceful life was slowly returning to the war-torn country. [Reuters, 1/15/2016]

United States, Russia agree January 25 Syria talks must go forward
The United States and Russia agreed that January 25 Syria peace talks involving the government and opposition groups must go forward without preconditions, the US Department of State said. Secretary of State John Kerry, in a telephone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, expressed “deep concern” over attacks on civilians in Syria, State Department spokesman John Kirby said. [Reuters, 1/15/2016]

Iraqi force enters southern oil city to disarm tribal fighters
Iraq has sent an armored army division and a police strike force into the southern oil city of Basra to disarm residents amid intensified feuding among rival Shia Muslim tribes, local officials and security sources said on Friday. Forces had been deployed earlier to restore calm to rural areas running north of the city towards West Qurna and Majnoon oilfields on Wednesday, but a local official reassured foreign companies their assets were secure. “The oil companies and oil sites and the roads leading to them are completely safe. There are no concerns in this regard,” said Sabah al-Bazouni, head of Basra’s provincial council. The majority of crude exports from major OPEC oil producer Iraq come from southern oil fields around Basra. [Al Arabiya Arabic, Business Insider, Reuters, 1/15/2016]

Turkey detains academics who signed petition defending Kurds
Turkish police on Friday detained 18 academics who were among the 1,128 scholars who signed a declaration denouncing military operations against Kurdish rebels in southeastern Turkey. Prosecutors have launched investigations into the academics on possible charges of insulting the state and engaging in “terrorist propaganda” on behalf of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). If convicted, the academics could face one to five years in jail. The move deepens concerns about freedom of expression under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s as it came after Erdogan severely criticized the signatories, including linguist Noam Chomsky, and called on the judiciary to act against the “treachery.” The US Ambassador to Turkey John R. Bass criticized the arrests, saying they would have a “chilling effect on legitimate political discourse” about the violence in southeastern Turkey. The main opposition party released in its statement on Friday that “We, as the CHP Party Assembly, find these operations targeting freedom of expression of thought and independent judiciary, which are only be seen in undemocratic regimes, very dangerous and unacceptable.” [AP, Hurriyet, Guardian, 1/15/2016]