– United States, Russia in new Syria military safety talks 
– Assad backs Syria truce, accuses opposition of violations
– UK admits bombing ISIS in Syria not working; Pentagon expands cyber war
– United States under pressure to take lead in Syria migrant crisis
– United Nations says food aid will be restored to Syrians
– Turkey partially lifts curfew in Cizre

United States, Russia in new Syria military safety talks
Pentagon officials spoke with Russian counterparts on Monday as part of a series of discussions aimed at avoiding military mishaps in Syria. “The two sides discussed measures to enhance operational safety . . . including the means to avoid accidents and unintended confrontation between coalition and Russian forces whenever the two sides operate in close proximity,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. The Russian military said Monday that its warplanes struck Nusra Front targets north of Aleppo. It also said that groups which have declared their adherence to the ceasefire are not being targeted. Russian warplanes sat idle Tuesday on the tarmac at Hemeimeem air base in Syria on the fourth day of a ceasefire, according to reporters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Tuesday for the closure of Syria’s border with Turkey to cut off outside supplies to “terrorists,” including through humanitarian convoys. US Secretary of State John Kerry says both sides may have violated Syria’s ceasefire. But he says no breaches have been significant enough to shatter the three-day-old “cessation of hostilities.” Speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry says a US-Russian-led task force is investigating all claims of violations. Meanwhile, aide to Saudi Arabia’s defense minister Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said on Monday that defense ministers from the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) discussed the possibility of a Syrian ground incursion two weeks ago but they have not made a decision. [AFP, Daily Star, AP, Reuters, 2/29/2016]

Assad backs Syria truce, accuses opposition of violations as shelling hits civilian
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the ceasefire as a “glimmer of hope,” but accused the opposition of violating the agreement intended to halt the fighting. He pledged Tuesday to do his part to ensure a fragile ceasefire holds and offered “full amnesty” to rebels who hand in their weapons. The opposition has in turn accused the Syrian government of breaching the fragile truce by repeatedly attacking its positions, which the government denies. International observers have acknowledged violations of the agreement while stressing that the level of violence has decreased considerably. “We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” Assad was quoted as saying in an interview with Germany’s ARD television network. Assad said the Syrian army had not reacted to truce violations in order to give the agreement a chance. Journalists who visited rebel-held Aleppo reported, however, that residents remain distrustful of the Assad regime and Russian intentions, viewing the ceasefire as a trick and opposing it. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that clashes took place late Monday night between regime forces and Islamic battalions in Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood amid rebel shelling. A series of artillery shells also exploded on the main street of Kinsibba village near the Turkish border in Latakia province. The Russian military says the shelling came from Nusra Front. [Reuters, AFP, Daily Star, AP, 3/1/2016]

UK admits bombing ISIS in Syria not working; Pentagon expands cyber war
The ISIS militant group is not being pushed back in Syria despite the extension of British air strikes, ministers have admitted. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs that the situation in the country was “complicated” and that recent events on the ground had concerned the government. “[ISIS is] being pushed back in Iraq,” he told MPs in the House of Commons when asked about the situation there. “In Syria the position is much more complicated and we are concerned at some of the more recent reports that may suggest coordination between Syrian democratic forces and the Assad regime, which is not helpful to the long-term aim of defeating [ISIS].” Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and top officer General Joe Dunford told reporters that cyberwarfare has playing an increasingly important role in anti-ISIS efforts. The US-led coalition is working to disrupt ISIS’s command chain “to cause them to lose confidence in their networks,” Carter said. He did not offer technical specifics on how the coalition was doing this but said the tactic was to “overload their network so that they can’t function, and do all of these things that will interrupt their ability to command and control forces there, control the population and the economy.” [The Independent, Al Arabiya, The Guardian, 3/1/2016]

United States under pressure to take lead in Syria migrant crisis
Former and serving senior US officials have criticized Washington for not taking a lead on the refugee crisis, saying that it threatens the stability of the Middle East and European Union. “You can’t exercise leadership simply by saying you’re a leader,” said Eric Schwartz, a former senior diplomat and member of the National Security Council. Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon said, “This risks unraveling the European Union as a political construct.” Obama promised that the United States would admit 10,000 Syrians during the 2016 fiscal year, which ends on September 30, but five months into the current fiscal year the United States has only accepted 942 Syrians. EU countries have already begun measures to control the refugee flow. The European Commission will propose using funds earmarked for catastrophes outside the bloc to aid EU countries most affected by the crisis. Some have proposed suspending the Schengen open borders agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry defended US policy, saying that the United States is the largest donor to the relief effort, having spent $5.1 billion, but admits that if the Syria peace process fails, the crisis will get worse. [AFP, 3/1/2016]

United Nations says food aid will be restored to Syrians
The United Nations stated that it will recommence distributing food aid to Syrians, after being forced to cut down operations because of funding shortfalls. Donor countries, led by Germany, pledged $675 million to the World Food Programme. The funding will allow the WFP to “fully reinstate” aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt for the rest of 2016. It will also allow the agency to distribute food at full capacity to internally displaced Syrians until October 2016. The WFP was forced to make cutbacks last year due to lack of funding. [NYT 2/29/2016]

Turkey partially lifts curfew in Cizre
Turkey will partially lift a curfew it had imposed on on the district of Cizre, in southeastern Turkey, on Wednesday. The curfew will remain in place from 7:30 pm to 5 am, but will be lifted during the daytime. Turkey imposed the curfew on December 14, and conducted military operations, to flush out Kurdish militants who had set up ditches and trenches to keep security forces out. The military operations ended February 11. A curfew remains in place in the district of Sur in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. Another was recently imposed on Idil city. [AFP, Daily Star, 3/1/2016]