– North Korea troops in Syria to help Assad
– Fighting against ISIS rages in central Syrian town of Palmyra
– ‘No Drama, No Walkouts’ and no progress in Syria peace talks

– PKK attack on military station kills three soldiers
– Russia to “unfreeze” relations with Turkey if takes responsibility

North Korea troops in Syria to help Assad

North Korean military units are in Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, a member of the Saudi-backed Syrian opposition recently claimed. “Two North Korean units are there, which are Chalma-1 and Chalma-7,” Asaad al-Zoubi, a leading figure in the Syrian opposition’s High Negations Committee (HNC) delegation, told state-owned Russian news agency TASS. Currently there is no hard evidence that North Korean troops are on the ground fighting alongside the pro-Assad forces or that Pyongyang is currently providing material support to the Syrian government, though there is a long history of known Syrian-North Korean military cooperation. [Alarabiya, Washington Post, Diplomat, 3/25/2016]

Fighting against ISIS rages in central Syrian town of Palmyra
Syrian soldiers advanced slowly in heavy fighting with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters near Palmyra’s ancient ruins Friday, state media and a monitoring group said, in an offensive which could open up swathes of eastern Syria to government forces. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Director Rami Abdulrahman said the fighting had reached Palmyra’s Roman-era ruins, where he said the army could not rely on air cover because of the risk of further damage to the ancient site. Russian jets have continued to support the Syrian army and its allies as they push their offensive on the desert city, despite Moscow’s recent announcement that it was withdrawing the bulk of its military forces. A Russian special forces officer was killed in combat near Palmyra in the last week, Interfax said, suggesting the Kremlin has been more deeply engaged in the Syrian conflict than it has acknowledged. [Reuters, AFP, AP, 3/25/2016]

‘No Drama, No Walkouts’ and no progress in Syria peace talks
As Syrian peace talks were adjourned in Geneva after 10 days, the UN mediator said he was encouraged that there was “no drama, no walkouts,” but, while a shaky truce has continued to hold across the war-torn country, there was also no visible sign of progress on a lasting settlement. The ultimate goal for UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is a plan for political transition in Syria. In the wake of the Brussels bombings—claimed by ISIS, which has flourished in Syria’s conflict—de Mistura sought to focus international attention on the next-step, saying that to defeat “terrorism, you have to find a political solution in Syria.” [AP, 3/25/2016]

PKK attack on military station kills three soldiers
Three Turkish soldiers were killed late on March 24 in a Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) car bomb attack in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, the Turkish General Staff has announced. PKK militants attacked the Mermer Gendarmerie Post on the Diyarbakır Lice motorway at around 9:10 p.m. by detonating a bomb-laden car, killing three soldiers and wounding another 24. The PKK, which is fighting for autonomy for Kurds in the country’s southeast, has been bombing police stations and military vehicles as part of its campaign while Kurdish militants, linked to the PKK, have been battling the Turkish forces in some urban districts. Turkey’s military, meanwhile, has been attacking suspected PKK hideouts across the border in northern Iraq. The latest aerial air offensive was on Wednesday, when Turkish F-16 and F-4 jets raided 11 PKK targets including ammunition depots, bunkers, and shelters, the military said Thursday. [AP, Anadolu Agency, Hurriyet, NYT, 3/25/2016]

Russia to “unfreeze” relations with Turkey if takes responsibility for warplane  
The Russian Federation Council Speaker Valentina Matviyenko has said that Russia is prepared to “unfreeze” and normalize its relations with Turkey if Ankara takes responsibility for its shooting down of a Russian warplane last November. “Russia-Turkey relations are not at their best, to put it mildly. As you know, we are not to blame for the deterioration of the relations. We are ready to unfreeze them if the Turkish leadership recognizes its responsibility in downing a Russian aircraft over Syrian territory. However, there are not such hints from the Turkish side,” she told the Russian state-owned RIA Novosti news agency. [Rudaw, 3/25/2016]