Syria army fights ISIS at gates of Palmyra
– Syria war parties to agree on UN basic principles paper
– Kerry tells Russia he wants further reduction in Syria violence
– Turkey informed Belgium over attacker’s terrorist links

Syria army fights ISIS at gates of Palmyra

Syrian government troops backed by intense Russian airstrikes, battled Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants on Thursday on the edge of Palmyra. ISIS has called on residents of Palmyra to flee the town as pro-regime forces continue their advances. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Thursday morning that ISIS members issued a call across loudspeakers for the remaining residents of the town to “leave as a result of the fighting reaching the outskirts of the city.” SOHR added that “fierce clashes resumed in the morning at the southern and southwestern entrances of Palmyra . . .” SOHR went into details on fighting that was raging in the Palmyra Groves directly south of the archeological complex of ancient ruins as well as in the Mutaqaadin area to the west of the city. “Russian and Syrian warplanes are conducting heavy airstrikes in the locations where the fighting is raging,” SOHR said. [AP, AFP, BBC, NYT, Guardian, Al Arabiya, 3/24/2016]

Syria war parties to agree on UN basic principles paper
Syrian government and opposition parties at peace talks in Geneva are expected to agree on Thursday to a document drawn up by a UN special envoy outlining basic principles. With a fragile ceasefire in place in Syria, negotiations are due to adjourn on Thursday after almost two weeks of discussions and to resume in April. “Basic principles have been laid out. De Mistura wants to announce that all sides have agreed so that he can move on to the transition issue at the next round,” said a senior Western diplomat. “It’s a baby step, but a necessary step. It’s not a bad result.” The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the document contains 10 to 12 points ranging from agreeing to a united national army, the need to fight terrorism, and ensuring a democratic non-sectarian state with equal rights for all. [Reuters, 3/24/206]

Kerry tells Russia he wants further reduction in Syria violence
Secretary of State John Kerry said in Moscow Thursday a fragile partial truce in Syria had reduced levels of violence there, but that he wanted to see a further reduction as well as greater flows of humanitarian aid. Kerry said there was a hope that his meetings in Moscow could “further find and chart the road ahead so that we can bring this conflict in Syria to a close as fast as possible.” Kerry said he was looking forward to constructive conversations with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin, and said it was encouraging that Russia and the United States were able to cooperate “despite differences . . . in the face of this urgency to do what is necessary to meet the challenge.” [Reuters, 3/24/2016]

Turkey informed Belgium over attacker’s terrorist links
Turkey formerly informed Belgian authorities about the terrorist links of one of the attackers in the March 22 Brussels bombings, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday. “One of the perpetrators of the Brussels attack is a person whom we detained in June 2015 in [the southeastern province of] Gaziantep and deported,” Erdogan said at a joint press conference with his Romanian counterpart in Ankara. “We informed the Brussels Embassy of the deportation process of the attacker with a note on July 14, 2015. However, the Belgians released the attacker despite his deportation,” Erdogan said. Despite this information, the Belgians could not determine any ties with terrorism, he said. Erdogan also referred to the Netherlands, saying Turkey deported the attacker there in June 2015 and informed the Netherlands via a note. The president also said the world has to “redefine terror, terrorism and terrorists.” [Hurriyet, Reuters, Daily Sabah, 3/24/2016]