– Iran to join international Syria talks
– ISIS advances on regime town in north Syria
– Syria war costs oil industry over $50 billion 
– UN programs struggle to meet needs of Syrian refugees
– Iraq says did not ask for US ground operations
– ISIS behind October 10 Ankara massacre, says Turkey’s chief prosecutor

Iran to join international Syria talks
On Wednesday, Iran’s state TV and semi-official news agency said Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will attend the international Syria talks, set to begin Thursday and Friday in Vienna. US Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and several top European and Arab diplomats will be attending. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, President Barack Obama and Saudi King Salman spoke about cooperating closely to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and “establish the conditions for a political transition in Syria,” according to a White House statement. The statement did not mention Iran. The United States and its partners say Assad can participate in a political transition, but would have to leave power at the end of the process, which Russia and Iran reject. Other sticking points include the length of the transition and what a new constitution and future elections might look like. This week’s gathering will include Britain, France, Germany, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates. Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Iraq’s Deputy Foreign Minister Nazar al-Khairalla, and Lebanon will also attend on Friday. A senior member of Syria’s Western-backed political opposition on Wednesday spoke against Iranian participation in Syrian peace talks in Vienna, saying it would undermine the process. [AP, 10/28/2015]

ISIS advances on regime town in north Syria
On Tuesday,ISIS forces advanced to the outskirts of a major government military stronghold in northern Syria, activists report. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS had entered the northeastern edges of Safira, a town which lies southeast of Syria’s Aleppo. “ISIS has broken the defensive lines of the regime in Safira, which is the most important military bastion for the regime in the southern parts of Aleppo province,” Observatory director Rami Abdel-Rahman said. He added that the regime controlled several weapons depots inside the town and that ISIS fighters and government forces were locked in fierce clashes on the city’s outskirts. ISIS published a statement online saying, “The regime’s primary defensive lines have fallen [around Safira].” It claimed that fighters from the militant group had seized several neighborhoods inside the town. A Syrian military source confirmed that Syrian troops had lost control of territory around Safira “as a result of a Daesh attack,” using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. [Daily Star, 10/28/2015]

Syria war costs oil industry over $50 billion
Syria’s oil, gas, and mineral resource industries have suffered losses totaling more than $50 billion since the country’s conflict erupted in 2011, Oil Minister Suleiman al-Abbas said on Tuesday. Al-Abbas told Syria’s Al-Watan newspaper that attacks carried out by terrorist groups and US-led air strikes on jihadists have severely damaged the country’s infrastructure. The figure is more than double the government’s previous announcement that came in June 2014, when it said Syria’s oil and gas industries had lost $21.4 billion. Before Syria’s civil war, the country produced 385,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil.  Now, the government produces an average of 9,688 bpd and 14.8 million cubic metres of natural gas daily, according to Al-Watan. [AFP, 10/27/2015]

UN programs struggle to meet needs of Syrian refugees
The United Nations said Tuesday the worsening conflict in Syria has left 13.5 million people in need of aid and some form of protection, a figure including more than 6 million children. UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien told the Security Council that the figure represents an increase of some 1.2 million people in just ten months. With winter fast approaching, the situation for many families is likely to deteriorate. O’Brien said there are now some 6.5 million people displaced inside Syria, including well over 1.2 million so far this year and over 120,000 who have fled their homes in the country’s north since early October as a result of aerial bombardment and ground offensives. Meanwhile, the UN World Food Programme said it had resumed assistance to hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees in Jordan, a month after suspending aid over a lack of funds. [Daily Star, 10/28/2015]

Iraq says did not ask for US ground operations
The Iraqi government said Wednesday it didn’t ask for, and doesn’t need, the “direct action on the ground” promised by the Pentagon. The revelation came a day after Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said the United States may carry out more unilateral ground raids like (last week’s rescue operation to free hostages) in Iraq to target Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) militants. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s spokesman told NBC News that any military involvement in the country must be cleared through the Iraqi government just as US-led airstrikes are. “This is an Iraqi affair and the government did not ask the US Department of Defense to be involved in direct operations,” spokesman Sa’ad al-Hadithi told NBC News. “We have enough soldiers on the ground.”  The US currently has around 3,300 troops in Iraq to train and advise Iraqi forces and protect US facilities. [NBC, 10/28/2015]

ISIS behind October 10 Ankara massacre, says Turkey’s chief prosecutor
Turkish prosecutors say a local cell of the Islamic State group which took orders from extremists in Syria was behind the two suicide bombings earlier this month that killed 102 people at a peace rally. A statement from the Ankara Chief Prosecutor’s office Wednesday said  that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) cell, based in Gaziantep, near the Syrian border, is also believed to be responsible for four previous attacks in Turkey since May. The statement said investigators had established a “regular flow of money” from ISIS in Syria to the cell. Prosecutors say the local cell had received ISIS “permission” to carry out attacks against Kurdish rebels and other groups in Turkey that are anti-ISIS. The statement added that the local cell sought ISIS permission for attacks on Turkey’s Jewish and Christian community. [AP, 10/28/2015]

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