– Syria regime forces advance on ISIS town near Palmyra
– Syria troops remove 150 landmines from Palmyra so far
– China appoints first special envoy for Syria crisis
– Oxfam urges rich nations to take in more Syria refugees
– Russian military delegation arrives in Turkey

Syria regime forces advance on ISIS town near Palmyra
Government troops were locked in heavy fighting Tuesday with the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in central Syria, where they dealt a major blow by seizing the ancient city of Palmyra. Just two days after seizing Palmyra from ISIS, pro-government fighters advanced southwest towards the extremists held town of al-Qaryatin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. They captured a series of strategic hilltops overlooking the town backed by both Syrian and Russian warplanes. State news agency SANA said the army, backed by pro-government militia, had also seized rural farmland south of al-Qaryatin as they closed in on the town. [AFP, 3/29/2016]

Syria troops remove 150 landmines from Palmyra so far
A Syrian antiquities official says demining experts have so far removed 150 bombs planted by ISIS inside the archaeological site in the historic town of Palmyra. Syria’s head of antiquities and museums, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, said on Tuesday that a technical team has returned to Damascus after a two-day work in Palmyra. [AP, 3/29/2016]

China appoints first special envoy for Syria crisis
On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry announced it has appointed its first special envoy to Syria as the Asian nation seeks to increase its diplomatic footprint in the Middle East. While relying on the region for oil supplies, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the UN Security Council. But China has been trying to get more involved, including recently hosting both Syria’s foreign minister and opposition figures, at different times. The appointment would help facilitate peace talks and “contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions” towards attempts to resolve the crisis, he said, reiterating that a political solution was the “only way out.” [Reuters, AFP, 3/29/2016]

Oxfam urges rich nations to take in more Syria refugees
Wealthy countries have resettled only a fraction of the nearly five million refugees who have fled Syria, Oxfam said on Tuesday, urging them to step up and do their share. The British charity called on wealthy countries to resettle at least 10 percent of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered in the region by the end of the year. So far rich countries have pledged fewer than 130,000 resettlement spots, and only around 67,100 people — a mere 1.39 percent of the refugees — have made it to their final destinations since 2013. The charity issued its report ahead of an unprecedented UN conference in Geneva on Wednesday, where countries will be asked to pledge resettlement spots for Syrian refugees. The United Nations said on Tuesday it was seeking to resettle more than 450,000 Syrian refugees, some one-tenth of those now in neighboring countries, by the end of 2018, but conceded that it was battling widespread fear and politicization of the issue. [AFP, Reuters, BBC, Guardian, 3/29/2016]

Russian military delegation arrives in Turkey
A military delegation from Russia has arrived in the Turkish province of Izmir. Members of the delegation are now in a military unit located in the vicinity of the Foca district of the country’s Izmir province. This is the first visit of the Russian military delegation to Turkey since the time of crisis between the two countries. Relations between Russia and Turkey deteriorated after Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian SU-24 bomber on Nov. 24, 2015. Turkey said the bomber entered its airspace, while Russia denied its warplane flying into the Turkish skies. [Trend News, Yeni Safak, 3/29/2016]