– Aid to reach Syrian town of Madaya by Monday
– ISIS militant ‘executes own mother’ in Raqqa
– UN envoy in Syria ahead of upcoming peace talks in Geneva
– Idlib rebels execute ISIS-linked assassination cell
– Top US commander shares Ankara’s concerns over PKK-affiliate PYD
– Special forces target ISIS in Hawija, Iraq

Aid to reach Syrian town of Madaya by Monday

Aid deliveries bringing food, medical supplies and blankets to three towns in Syria where residents say they are starving to death will begin by Sunday or Monday, a Red Cross official said. The official called for humanitarian organizations to be granted unimpeded access to all areas under siege in Syria, saying one-off deliveries were not enough to prevent civilians from starving. “We were granted access yesterday [Thursday] but the operation won’t happen before Sunday or Monday,” said Pawel Krzysiek, the International Committee for the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesman in Syria. “We are sorting out a few details.” The last aid delivery to the three towns, under siege by pro-government and opposition forces, took place in October. Doctors without Borders (MSF) said Friday that 23 people have died from starvation in Madaya since December 1. [Guardian, AFP, BBC, NYT, 1/8/2016]

ISIS militant ‘executes own mother’ in Raqqa
An Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant carried out a public “execution” of his mother because she asked him to leave the group, activists say. Lena al-Qasem had reportedly told her son that the US-led military alliance fighting ISIS would “wipe out” the group and tried to convince him to leave the city with her. Her son is then said to have informed the group of her comment and they ordered her killing. Ali Saqr, 21, is reported to have shot her outside the post office where she worked, in front of hundreds of people. Also on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported eight children and three women killed in US-led coalition air strikes in a village north of Raqqa. [BBC, Reuters, Guardian, AFP, 1/8/2016]

UN envoy in Syria ahead of upcoming peace talks in Geneva
The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has arrived in Damascus for talks with Syrian officials in preparation for peace negotiations between President Bashar al-Assad’s government and its opponents later this month in Geneva. De Mistura was received by Deputy Syrian Foreign Minister Aymen Sossan upon arrival on Friday. He did not take questions from the media.De Mistura’s visit comes after his meetings with Syrian opposition officials in Saudi Arabia, which is the main backer of Assad’s opponents. After those meetings, Syrian rebels underscored their doubts about a new UN-led drive for peace talks planned to begin this month. The opposition council said it was under pressure “to offer concessions that will prolong the suffering of our people and the spilling of their blood” in a signed statement. [AP, 1/8/2016]

Idlib rebels execute ISIS-linked assassination cell
The Islamist Army of Conquest coalition, which controls Syria’s Idlib province, executed on Friday five members of a “security cell” who belonged to ISIS and the hardline Jund al-Aqsa, around two weeks after reports on the cell’s capture emerged. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported early on Friday morning that the five men had been executed on the same day in Idlib by the Army of Conquest’s policing body, the Executive Force. Activists close to the coalition told the Britain-based monitoring NGO that the men had been charged with “cooperating with ISIS, carrying out several assassinations including [the assassination of] leaders in Islamist factions, targeting vehicles belonging to the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement with IEDs and detonating IEDs at various locations in Idlib province.” [NOW, 1/8/2016]

Top US commander shares Ankara’s concerns over PKK-affiliate PYD
Top US commander General Dunford held a meeting with his Turkish counterpart General Akar in Ankara and expressed support for Turkey over its concerns about the PKK affiliated PYD’s plans to cross west of the Euphrates in Syria, which Ankara has called its redline. Dunford arrived in Ankara on Tuesday and held a series of official meetings on Wednesday, starting with Akar as well as several other top military officials at the General Staff and also met with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. In addition to the PYD presence and activity in the region, Turkish officials and Dunford addressed border security. Dunford said that 30,000 military officers will be inadequate for securing the new borders that are to be established. He also underlined that airstrikes are highly effective in targeting ISIS militants located near the Turkish border. During the meetings, Turkish officials once again emphasized the importance of tackling the source of the Syrian crisis – the regime of President Bashar Assad – and reiterated that there needs to be a resolution in Syria. [Daily Sabah, 1/7/2016]

Special forces target ISIS in Hawija, Iraq
Foreign special forces have been carrying out raids on an ISIS stronghold in northern Iraq ahead of an offensive planned later this year to retake Mosul, the largest city under the group’s control, Iraq’s Parliamentary Speaker Salim al-Jabouri said. He said several attacks behind ISIS lines around Hawija, 210 kilometers north of Baghdad, were carried out in recent weeks. Both the U.S. and Iraqi military have denied that US forces have carried out military operations on the ground in Hawija since October, when US special forces rescued 69 Iraqis in a raid that killed one US commando. But Dubai-based al-Hadath TV and Iraqi media have reported at least half a dozen raids in and around Hawija since late December, led by US special forces. Special operations in Hawija “have been repeated a second and third time … These operations are bearing fruit,” said Jabouri, Iraq’s most senior Sunni Arab official. Meanwhile, clashes that erupted late Thursday between a joint Turkish-Iraqi force and ISIS near a training camp outside of Mosul have left at least 18 ISIS fighters dead. [Reuters, 1/8/2016]