UN Syria Envoy says Plan B in talks is a ‘return to war’ 
– ISIS commander Shishani clinically dead
– Nusra Front attacks US-backed Syrian rebels
– Syria aid deliveries from Red Cross postponed over violence
– SAMS reports 161 chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s war
– Russian FM Sergei Lavrov says evidence Turkish troops in Syria

– Deadly explosion in the heart of Turkey’s capital

UN Syria Envoy says Plan B in talks is a ‘return to war’
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura restarted peace talks between the government and the opposition on Monday, warning that the only alternative is a return to war and describing the political transition in the country as “the mother of all issues.” Moments before meeting with a Syrian government envoy de Mistura laid out both high stakes and low expectations for what is shaping up as the most promising initiative in years to end the conflict that moves into its sixth year on Tuesday. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Saturday that any talk of removing Assad during a transitional period sought by the United Nations was “a red line” and rejected the international call for a presidential election to be held within 18 months—a key demand of the opposition. De Mistura was asked if he would like to see a woman as president. He said, “I would love that.” His spokesman Ahmad Fawzi quickly added that the outcome of any election was entirely a matter for the Syrian people. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said federalization is one possible option if it is the will of the Syrian people. Lavrov said that Russia will support whatever solution the Syrian government and the opposition devise to end the country’s war, including “any form (of government) whatever it may be called: federalization, decentralization, unitary state.” The Syrian government has submitted a document entitled “Basic Elements for a Political Solution” to the United Nations as well. [AP, Reuters, 3/14/2016]

ISIS commander Shishani clinically dead
Top Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) commander Omar al-Shishani has been “clinically dead” for several days after a US air strike in northern Syria, a monitoring group said Sunday. “Shishani is not able to breathe on his own and is using machines. He has been clinically dead for several days,” said Director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Rami Abdulrahman. Abdulrahman said the notorious red-bearded commander, known as Omar the Chechen, was in a hospital in the northern province of Raqqa. [AFP, 3/13/2016]

Nusra Front attacks US-backed Syrian rebels
The Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front swept through a rebel-held town in northern Syria in a display of dominance Sunday, arresting US-backed fighters and looting weapons stores belonging to the Free Syrian Army (FSA). The Nusra Front along with allied jihadists have been moving to exert their authority over rebel-held areas in Idlib province since a partial ceasefire to the country’s conflict took effect two weeks ago, extinguishing patriotic demonstrations and sidelining nationalist militias. The FSA’s Division 13, which has received weapons, training, and money from the US government, said on Twitter Sunday that Nusra fighters were going door to door in the town of Maarat Numan and arresting its cadres; the Nusra Front, alongside fighters from the Jund al-Aqsa faction, seized Division 13 posts the night before. Seven Division 13 fighters died in the clashes and detained 40 fighters from the division. SOHR said the Nusra Front seized antitank missiles, armored vehicles, a tank, and other arms from the division. [AP, Reuters, AFP, WSJ, 3/14/2016]

Syria aid deliveries from Red Cross postponed over violence
Aid groups were unable to deliver much-needed food packages to four besieged towns in war-torn Syria on Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said, citing security problems. Though aid deliveries have reached thousands of people in areas blockaded by regime and opposition forces since the start of the ceasefire, aid deliveries to Madaya and Zabadani, two towns near Damascus blockaded by the regime, and Fuaa and Kafraya, which are besieged by rebels in Syria’s northwest, have been delayed. ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek said distribution to those areas has always been “synchronized,” meaning that aid could only be delivered to all four towns at once. Citing “the situation around Qalaat al-Madiq” in central Hama province, Krzysiek said that “for security reasons we can’t really send our trucks in this direction,” which is located on the road to Kafraya in northern Syria. SORH reported shelling by the army on Qalaat al-Madiq. “We have everything ready,” Krzysiek said. “As soon as the security situation allows for the synchronization to happen, we will do it.” [AFP, 3/14/2016]

SAMS reports 161 chemical weapons attacks in Syria’s war
As Syria marks five full years of civil war this month, a new report claims that chemical weapons have been used at least 161 times through the end of 2015 and caused 1,491 deaths. It says such attacks are increasing, with a high of at least 69 attacks last year, and a total of 14,581 people injured. The Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS) says its report released Monday is the most comprehensive listing of chemical weapons attacks in Syria so far. The US-based nonprofit, which supports more than 1,700 workers at over 100 medical centers in Syria, says the list is based primarily on the reports of medical personnel who have treated victims, aided by NGOs and other local sources. The organization is asking the 15-member UN Security Council and the international community to quickly identify perpetrators and hold them accountable through the International Criminal Court or other means. [AP, Guardian, 3/14/2016]

Russian FM Sergei Lavrov says has evidence Turkish troops in Syria 
On Sunday, the Russian Ministry of Defense received reports on Saturday of Turkish shelling of Kurdish positions in Syria’s Aleppo province. Turkey claims to be targeting ISIS positions. Russia also accused Turkey of sending its military across the Syrian border to prevent Kurdish groups from consolidating their positions. Meanwhile, Turkish authorities imposed curfews on two mainly Kurdish towns where Turkey’s security forces are set to launch large-scale operations against Kurdish militants. “According to our information, they are digging in a few hundred meters from the border inside Syria,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an interview on Sunday. Lavrov said Turkey has declared a sovereign right to create a security zone on Syrian territory to prevent the unification of Kurdish enclaves located to the east and to the west in northern Syria. Lavrov also said that Russia would insist the UN invites Kurds to peace talks on the Syrian conflict despite Turkey’s opposition. [Reuters, AP, 3/13/2016]

Deadly explosion in the heart of Turkey’s capital
A car filled with explosives blew up in a public square in the heart of Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Sunday evening in the latest of a string of terrorist attacks that have destabilized the country. At least 34 people were killed and 125 wounded in the attack, Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said, although recent reports indicate significantly greater casualties. Almost immediately, the Turkish authorities, as they had after other attacks, imposed a ban on local news media coverage of the bombing and an order blocking access to social media. The blast came as Turkey’s security forces were preparing to launch large-scale operations against militants in two mainly Kurdish towns where authorities have imposed curfews. Evidence had been obtained that one of the bombers was a woman who joined the militant PKK in 2013. Officials say she was born in 1992 and was from the eastern Turkish city of Kars. A security official later said that a male Turkish citizen with links to the party was a second suspect. There were no immediate claims of responsibility. At least 20 suspects have been detained amid ongoing investigations. Hours after the bombing in the capital, Turkey’s air force hit Kurdish rebel targets in northern Iraq. [AP, Guardian, NYT, 3/14/2016]