– European leaders to discuss Syria with Putin Friday
– ‘Huge drop’ in civilian deaths after Syria truce
– Electricity supply gradually returns after nationwide outage in Syria
– United States struggles with Arabic reports on Syria truce violations
– Turkey cracks down on insults to President Erdogan
– United States warns PYD not to support PKK in Turkey

European leaders to discuss Syria with Putin Friday
British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will discuss the ceasefire in Syria with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a conference call on Friday. “Tomorrow is an opportunity for the leaders of the UK, France, and Germany to come together… and make very clear to president Putin that we need this ceasefire to hold, to be a lasting one and to open the way for a real political transition,” Cameron’s spokeswoman Downing Street said on Thursday. The call will be the first time the leaders have spoken since the ceasefire came into effect on Friday. On Wednesday, France and Britain issued a joint statement after a summit stating, “We ask all sides that are committing human rights violations, including Russia and the Syrian regime, to put an immediate end to the attacks against moderate opposition groups.” Despite Russia’s repeated denial of targeting of civilians, an Amnesty International report released Thursday said the organization had gathered “compelling evidence” of Syrian and Russian forces targeting hospitals as a strategy of war. [AFP, 3/3/2016]

‘Huge drop’ in civilian deaths after Syria truce
Twenty-four civilians have been killed in the first five days of a truce in parts of Syria, a sharp drop for a war where dozens die daily, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said Thursday. “Compare that number to Friday, the day before the truce came into effect: 63 civilians, including 11 children, died that day alone,” said Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman. He called it a “huge drop,” adding that the daily average during the month of February was 38 civilians killed. Also on Thursday, UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura called the ceasefire “fragile,” stating “success is not guaranteed but progress has been visible, ask the Syrians.” On Wednesday the White House expressed concern about reports of Syrian regime tank and artillery attacks on civilians near Latakia, where a Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive continues despite the ceasefire. The official stated that the attacks if confirmed would be a “flagrant violation of cessation of hostilities.” [AFP, 3/3/2016]

Electricity supply gradually returns after nationwide outage in Syria
Syria’s electricity supply was gradually returning after it was cut across the country Thursday and Internet connections were briefly disrupted, state news agency SANA said. SANA quoted the electricity minister saying that the network was returning and would be restored to its earlier capacity by midnight, though it did not say what caused the cut. SANA stated earlier that the “electricity work has been cut in all governorates. Attempts to find the cause of the outage have begun.” A witness confirmed that electricity had gone down in Damascus, and SOHR said that power had been cut in the “vast majority of governorates.” [Reuters, 3/3/2016]

United States struggles with Arabic reports on Syria truce violations
A hotline set up by the US State Department to log reported violations of the cessation of hostilities in Syria has suffered from a lack of fluent Arabic-speakers, the department said on Wednesday. “There were some language issues,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said at his daily briefing. “We’re working to correct those, obviously, because it’s important that we have Arabic speakers that were able to field incoming calls.” In response to Syria Direct story that described issues with the hotline, a US official stated that the hotline was set up in haste last week and that some volunteers who stepped forward were not sufficiently fluent in Arabic. [Reuters, Al Jazeera, AFP, WSJ, 3/3/2016]

Turkey cracks down on insults to President Erdogan
Since August 2014, 1,845 criminal cases have been opened against Turks for insulting their president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a crime that carries a penalty of up to four years in prison. Among the offenders are journalists, authors, politicians, a famous soccer star, even schoolchildren. That number quantified a growing trend of cracking down on dissent, and was revealed this week by Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, in response to a question in parliament. Bozdag said late Tuesday, defending the myriad alleged insults subject to judicial scrutiny, “It is not an expression of opinion, it is all swears and insults… Nobody should have the freedom to swear.” The pursuit of such cases has had a chilling effect on speech, activists and lawyers say. “This is intimidation,” said Ozgur Urfa, a lawyer who has defended more than two dozen people in insult cases. The insult cases, critics say, have become a prominent element of a full-scale assault on freedom of expression. [NYT, Reuters, 3/3/2016]

United States warns PYD not to support PKK in Turkey
The United States on March 2 called on the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria to not support the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in Turkey. Addressing Turkish concerns about links between the PYD and its armed wing—the People’s Protection Unit (YPG)—and the PKK, US Deputy Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said Turkey’s cooperation was “vital” in Syria. In a news conference at the United Nations, Blinken said, “It is also not a secret that Turkey has expressed concerns about some of the Syrian Kurdish groups in northern Syria, including the PYD. We have made it very clear to the PYD that any actions it takes to either support the PKK or to engage the other opposition groups are profoundly problematic and we look to the PYD to act responsibly and to focus its efforts on the fight against Daesh [ISIS].” [Hurriyet, 3/3/2016]