– ISIS claims killing of five Russian troops killed near Palmyra
– UN seeks to reach over 1 million besieged Syrians in six weeks
UN envoy urges clear proposals from Damascus at Syria talks 
– White House says ready to help ICC genocide probe in Syria, Iraq
– Bomb kills policeman in southeast Turkey

ISIS claims killing of five Russian troops killed near Palmyra
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has claimed the killing of five Russian troops in fighting near the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra. “The soldiers of the caliphate, by the grace of God, have killed five Russian soldiers and six members [of the Syrian army],” ISIS said in a statement. The group also claimed the killing of several Hezbollah members in nearby clashes. A website linked to ISIS, Aamaq, carried a similar claim, adding that one of the Russians killed was a military adviser. “Four of the Russian soldiers were killed in Qasr al-Halabat west of Palmyra during an attempt to storm the area that ISIS forces foiled, while the adviser whose corpse was shown in a video distributed by the agency died (Thursday) in the Dawa area,” it added. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) confirmed clashes in Palmyra with ISIS and the regime, but not the casualties. [AFP, 3/18/2016]

UN seeks to reach over 1 million besieged Syrians in six weeks
A UN-backed task force working to deliver aid to besieged Syrians submitted a plan to the regime on Thursday that would allow life-saving supplies to reach over a million people by the end of April. The head of the task force, Jan Egeland, said implementing the plan mostly relied on Damascus, which has still not given clearance for UN convoys to reach six of the country’s 18 besieged areas. Egeland said, “It is a violation of international law to prevent us from going.” Most of the areas concerned are besieged by the Syrian army, not the rebels, he added. [AFP, 3/18/2016]

UN envoy urges clear proposals from Damascus at Syria talks
UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura wrapped up a week of fragile peace talks Friday with plans to meet both sides, after urging the regime to put forward clear plans for political transition. De Mistura has said agreeing on a unity government to lead Syria out of five years of civil war was the most daunting roadblock to peace. He praised the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC) for offering “substantive” plans for a transition on Thursday. The HNC has made the departure of President Bashar al-Assad an unalterable demand, while Damascus has termed any talk of the president’s removal as ‘a red line.’ De Mistura said he would hope to get “similar in-depth clarity from the government” about options for political transition, describing previous talks with the regime this week as “more on the formal side.” [AFP, 3/18/2016]

White House says ready to help ICC genocide probe in Syria, Iraq
The White House on Thursday said it was ready to support an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into alleged genocide carried out by ISIS in Syria and Iraq. “The United States will cooperate with independent efforts to investigate genocide,” said spokesman Josh Earnest, adding that the administration is willing to support the ICC in gathering evidence. The United States declared Thursday that ISIS’s slaughter of Christians, Yazidis, and Shia in Iraq and Syria amounts to a genocide and vowed to halt it. [AFP, 3/18/2016]

Bomb kills policeman in southeast Turkey
In southeast Turkey on Friday, a bomb attack by Kurdish militants killed a police officer in the town of Nusaybin and a second device was defused in the town of Hani. Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants were believed to have staged the attack on the armored police vehicle during security operations in Nusaybin. In the town of Hani, police found a vehicle loaded with 150 kg (330 lb) of explosives. State authorities believed this was to be detonated during events marking the anniversary of a World War I Canakkale battlefield victory that day. “Thanks to the alertness of security forces, there was no loss of life or damage. Efforts to ensure peace and security for our people will continue decisively and uninterrupted,” the provincial governor’s office said. Turkey has been on high alert since Sunday’s suicide bombing in Ankara. Germany shut down its diplomatic missions and schools in Turkey, and the United States and other European embassies warned citizens to be vigilant. [Reuters, 3/18/2016]