– Syrian rebel group says government mobilizing to take more areas
– International leaders discuss Syria with Russia
– United Nations says deal is near with Syria on aid
– EU outlines plan to save open borders, cajoles Turkey
– Istanbul hit by three more armed attacks Thursday

Syrian rebel group says government mobilizing to take more areas
The Syrian rebel group Jaysh al-Islam said on Friday government forces were mobilizing in an attempt to seize more opposition-held territory having already taken areas since a cessation of hostilities agreement came into effect on Saturday. “There are big violations by the regime and occupation of new areas, the use of all types of weapons, particularly planes and barrel bombs in some areas, and mobilizations to occupy very important strategic areas,” said Mohamad Alloush, head of the group’s political office. A Jaysh al-Islam statement stated, “Our confrontations with the Assad gangs did not stop, whether in the Ghouta, in Homs, or in Aleppo, and as far as we are concerned, the war effectively did not stop on the ground in the shadow of these violations.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Friday that two air strikes hit the edge of Douma, a town in Eastern Ghouta southeast of Damascus where Jaysh al-Islam operates, for the first time since the ceasefire. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]

International leaders discuss Syria with Russia
The leaders of Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to build on the recent cessation of hostilities in Syria to pave the way for discussions on a more lasting peace in the war-torn country in Geneva next week during a conference call on Friday, the British government said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Putin confirmed Russia’s commitment to the ceasefire during the call. “I would like to stress one more time that the commitment to hold the ceasefire was confirmed as a key message by the Russian president: only attacks on Daesh [ISIS] and al-Nusra Front,” Merkel said during a news conference with French President Francois Hollande. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hailed “real progress” in Syria but said peace talks cannot resume unless the ceasefire is fully respected and until all Syrians have access to aid. However, also on Friday French President Francois Hollande criticized Assad for scheduling elections in his war-torn country next month, calling the move “provocative” and “unrealistic.” On Thursday US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft met with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to discuss the ceasefire. [WSJ, Reuters, 3/4/2016]

United Nations says deal is near with Syria on aid
UN officials said they were on the verge of an agreement with the Syrian regime to get humanitarian relief flowing and to lift a ban on medical supplies to opposition-held areas. A senior UN official in charge of the region’s aid operations said aid delivery has improved since the ceasefire began, although UN workers in Syria disagree. Jan Egeland, an adviser to UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, on Thursday described the lack of humanitarian access as a “symbol of the impotence of the international community.” He told reporters in Geneva that efforts were under way to streamline procedures required by the regime to deliver aid and that this would include a green light for medical supplies prohibited so far. “This could be the game-changer we’ve been waiting for a very long time,” he said. [WSJ, 3/4/2016]

EU outlines plan to save open borders, cajoles Turkey
The European Commission set out a timetable on Friday for restoring open borders in Europe by the end of the year as EU leaders cajoled Turkey to act to stop the flow of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. Ahead of an emergency European Union summit with Turkey on Monday, the EU executive announced the first payouts from a 3 billion euro ($3.3 billion) fund to help it cope with the roughly 2.5 million Syrian migrants on Turkish soil. It also said Turkey was making progress towards achieving eagerly sought visa liberalization for its citizens in the EU. In return, Brussels is demanding that Ankara crack down on people smuggling and take back all illegal migrants who do not qualify for asylum in the 28-nation EU. Meeting in Paris, the leaders of Germany and France agreed that refugees fleeing war in Syria should stay in the region and said their common objective was to put Europe’s frayed Schengen passport-free travel agreement back into operation. European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair the summit, met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Friday to press him for decisive action to stop the unbroken flow of migrants into Greece. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]

Istanbul hit by three more armed attacks Thursday
A service bus carrying judicial personnel, an armored police vehicle, and the official car of a university rector were attacked by unidentified assailants in separate incidents in Istanbul on Thursday evening, following an armed assault targeting a suburban police station which resulted in the killing of two female militants. The service bus was attacked along the TEM highway in the Tekstilkent neighborhood. No casualties were reported, but the bullets hit a police car escorting the bus. The armored police car was attacked by three assailants firing shotguns from inside a white car on Thursday in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. The assailants then escaped on foot, leaving the car in the street. Officers and a police helicopter were dispatched in an effort to capture the suspects. Also on Thursday night, the official car of the Istanbul-based Fatih Sultan Mehmet University rector was attacked along the TEM highway. The driver of the car was injured in the attack. [Today’s Zaman, 3/4/2016]