– Russia says ISIS use of chemical weapons likely
– United States expects Syria meetings despite Saudi-Iran tensions
– Syrian opposition to demand confidence-building moves before talks

– Istanbul police raid 16 suspected ISIS locations
– Turkey to report to ECHR on curfew southeastern towns
– Iraqi fighters killed while thwarting ISIS assault in Anbar

Russia says ISIS use of chemical weapons likely
A fact-finding mission by the UN chemical weapons watchdog has found that some people in Syria may have been exposed to sarin or a sarin-like gas, according to a report released Monday. The mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it was investigating 11 incidents of the use of toxic chemicals reported by the Syrian government. The report did not say when the 11 incidents took place or specify any location. “In one instance, the analysis of some blood samples indicates that individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance … Further investigation would be necessary to determine when or under what circumstances such exposure might have occurred,” said the OPCW report sent to the UN Security Council last week. The UN Security Council is due to discuss Syria’s chemical weapons use during a meeting on Tuesday. In related news, Russian media reported that the head of Russia’s Foreign Ministry Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control Mikhail Ulyanov indicated that Moscow sees a high probability that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is using chemical weapons in Syria and called for an investigation into possible supplies of sarin components from Turkey to Syria. [AFP, Reuters, BBC, 1/5/2016]

United States expects Syria meetings despite Saudi-Iran tensions
The United States expects the next round of Syria meetings planned for this month to go forward despite a flare-up in tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the US State Department said on Monday. “We still hope and expect that meetings between opposition groups and regime can happen this month,” State Department spokesman John Kirby said. Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the UN Secretary General, echoed similar hopes stating, “[The United Nations] will be pushing forward and very much hoping that the current tensions will not impact negatively on the two peace processes,” referring to those of Syria and Yemen. The Saudi Envoy to the United Nations indicated that the tensions should have no impact on peace efforts in Syria and Yemen. “From our side, it should have no effect because we will continue to work very hard to support the peace efforts in Syria and Yemen,” Saudi Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said on Monday. A member of the Syrian opposition-in-exile Samir Nashar, however, indicated that this crisis could threaten already fragile diplomatic efforts. “The conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia will definitely have a negative impact … The negotiations were already difficult, if not impossible, and this conflict is only going to lead to positions becoming more entrenched.” [Reuters, 1/5/2016]

Syrian opposition to demand confidence-building moves before talks
Syria’s opposition wants to see confidence-building steps from Damascus including a prisoner release before negotiations due this month, officials said on Monday, a demand that could complicate efforts to start the talks. Opposition leaders including rebels plan to deliver that message to the UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura when they meet him in Riyadh on Tuesday. George Sabra, a member of the political opposition, said the talks must be preceded by “real steps on the ground that express not only good will but also confidence-building measures such as releasing political detainees and stopping the bombardment of towns and cities by heavy artillery and jets.” A second official said the opposition leaders would tell de Mistura “they can’t go to negotiations without Assad doing something serious such as a ceasefire or releasing detainees.” De Mistura is expected in Iran later this week and in Damascus on Saturday, according to UN sources. [Reuters, 1/4/2016]

Istanbul police raid 16 suspected ISIS locations
Twelve people suspected of having links to Daesh were taken into custody on Monday in an anti-terror operation in Istanbul, and police said they are continuing to work to capture five other suspects, who were not found in the operations. One of the suspects was remanded in custody by the court to await trial. Three others have been released but must report regularly to police. Eight other suspects have been freed pending trial. [Anadolu Agency, 1/5/2016]

Turkey to report to ECHR on curfew southeastern towns
The Justice Ministry is preparing a report for the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on the situation in southeastern towns where clashes with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continue to rage under military curfews. The ECHR asked three particular questions to Ankara over the issue: The legal basis for the curfews; whether the needs of locals living in curfew-hit towns are met, including health services; and whether the state can provide a safe exit route to locals if they demand to leave areas under curfew. [Hurriyet, 1/4/2016]

Iraqi fighters killed while thwarting ISIS assault in Anbar
At least 25 Iraqi fighters have been killed repelling a major three-day offensive by ISIS in the region of Haditha in Anbar province, security sources said Tuesday. “We have given 25 martyrs in 72 hours,” a tribal commander, Sheikh Abdallah Atallah, said from Haditha, an area that includes a key dam and has held off ISIS since 2014. “It was one of the biggest offensives we have seen. It came from three directions,” he said, adding that dozens were also wounded. The mayor of Haditha, located about 200 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, confirmed the casualty toll. [AFP, 1/5/2016]