– Syria opposition sees fewer truce breaches, UN prepares talks
– Insurgents in Syria attack government positions in Hama
– ISIS commander still alive, but badly wounded after US strike
– Syria’s domestic opposition to boycott parliamentary vote
– Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of aiding sarin gas delivery to rebels

Syria opposition sees fewer truce breaches, UN prepares talks

On Wednesday, the Syrian opposition said there had been fewer breaches of a truce agreement by the government and its allies in the past day as a UN envoy unveiled plans to resume peace talks next week. The “cessation of hostilities agreement” brokered by the United States and Russia has slowed the war considerably despite accusations of violations on all sides, preparing the ground for talks which the UN plans to convene in Geneva. UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said he planned to launch substantive peace talks Monday, focusing on issues of Syria’s future governance, elections within 18 months, and a new constitution. While the opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) has yet to declare whether it will attend, spokesman Salem al-Muslat said it was positive that the talks would “start … with discussion of the matter of political transition.” He said the HNC would announce its decision very soon. The Syrian government has also yet to say whether it will attend. The Syrian foreign minister is due to give a news conference Saturday at noon. [Reuters, BBC, Asharq al-Awsat, 3/10/2016]

Insurgents in Syria attack government positions in Hama
On Thursday, insurgent groups attacked several Syrian government positions in Hama province in what a rebel commander said was the biggest rebel assault in the area since a cessation of hostilities agreement came into effect two weeks ago. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Director of Rami Abdulrahman described it as a “comprehensive attack.” There were conflicting accounts about the outcome of the attack and who carried it out. SOHR said the attack failed with at least 20 of the attackers killed, describing them as Islamists and foreign fighters. Fares al-Bayoush, head of a Free Syrian Army (FSA) group called the Northern Division, said the attack was carried out by “local groups.” He called it a response to “violations that happened by the regime during the truce” and said two positions were captured. Syrian state TV said the attack was mounted by the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, which is not included in the ceasefire agreement. It said the assault failed with 70 militants killed. [Reuters, 3/10/2016]

ISIS commander still alive, but badly wounded after US strike
Top Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) commander leader Omar al-Shishani, known as Omar the Chechen, was “seriously injured” in a recent strike in northeastern Syria, but not killed despite US suggestions to the contrary, said SOHR. On Wednesday SOHR said that the March 4 strike had indeed targeted the extremist’s convoy, killing his bodyguards. While Shishani himself was seriously injured, SOHR director Rami Abdel Rahman said, “He’s not dead. He was taken from the province of Hassaka to a hospital in Raqqa province where he was treated by an extremist doctor of European origin.” The United States had stopped short of declaring Shishani dead. The US official branded him the ISIS equivalent of the secretary of defense. Shishani is an ISIS leader most wanted by Washington, which put a $5 million bounty on his head. He hails from the Pankisi Gorge region in Georgia, populated mainly by ethnic Chechens. [Reuters, BBC, AFP, The National, The Guardian, 3/10/2016]

Syria’s domestic opposition to boycott parliamentary vote
On Thursday, Syria’s main domestic opposition body called for a widespread boycott of parliamentary elections next month, accusing the government of using the vote to gain leverage in peace talks. The National Coordinating Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC), which is tolerated by the regime in Damascus, said it had decided to boycott the April 13 parliamentary polls. Group members will neither run for office nor cast their ballots, the group said in a statement posted on Facebook. It called on other “opposition forces and civil society to join the boycott”. The NCCDC accused the government of seeking to “improve the conditions” of UN-mediated indirect talks in Geneva between the regime and opposition. [AFP, 3/10/2016]

Syrian Kurds accuse Turkey of aiding sarin gas delivery to rebels
In an interview with RT, a spokesman for the Kurdish YPG militia accused Turkey of providing a clear transit route for the chemical weapons that were deployed against them near the city of Aleppo on Tuesday. The Syrian militias have been using toxic substances to launch attacks against a Kurdish-controlled area near Aleppo in northern Syria, with some of these substances arriving from Turkey, a spokesman for the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) said in a interview. Kurdish deputies in the Turkish parliament have previously accused Ankara of supplying ISIS and other jihadist groups inside Syria with chemical weapons, which are used both in their fight against the Syrian government and to pin responsibility for their deployment on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Kurds have also accused Turkey of keeping the border open for militant groups and supplying them with weapons. [RT, AhlulBayt, 3/10/2016]