Syrian army pushes offensive in central Homs
Syrian government forces launched an offensive Thursday in the central province of Homs under the cover of Russian air strikes in an attempt to clear the central region of militants and open the highway between Syria’s third and fourth largest cities, a military official and activists said. Hama is under government control but the highway connecting Hama and Homs is largely controlled by a patchwork of rebel groups. A military source in Syria said the Homs operation was “linked strategically” to regime operations in neighboring Hama province in recent days. “The operation will continue until it reaches its goal of securing northern Homs and severing contacts between militants in Hama and militants in Homs,” the source said. [AFP, AP, 10/15/2015]

Iran sends fighters to Syria, escalating its involvement
Hundreds of Iranian troops have been deployed to northern and central Syria in an escalation of Tehran’s involvement in Syria’s civil war. The troops will join fighters from Lebanon’s Hezbollah in an offensive alongside Assad’s army and Russian air strikes that will attempt to seize key areas from opposition forces. Syrian activists said that the arrival of a significant number of Iranian troops reveals the underlying goals of Russia’s recent military intervention, suggesting that the main goal is to bolster the Assad’s regime. Combating the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), they said, would only come as a secondary goal. The development is almost certain to increase pressure on Western-backed rebels, who are battling on multiple fronts. [AP, Washington Post, 10/15/2015]

UN sees chance for local ceasefires in Syria
The United Nations is pushing for local ceasefires in three or four areas in Syria. It believes that an escalation in the overall fighting could actually create a chance for political talks, UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said on Thursday. A series of peace initiatives, backed by the United Nations and world powers, has failed to end the civil war but Eliasson said the recent surge in the fighting could remind the warring parties of what was at stake and end up pushing them to the negotiating table. “I don’t think the distance between the parties is insurmountable,” Eliasson told a news conference in Geneva. “If there is political will now I think paradoxically we could use a serious part of the risks involved with the present escalation as a good reason to create a credible track on the political area.” Local ceasefires have been somewhat successful in the past in Syria and their examples can serve as a backdrop against an increased effort to create more of them. [Reuters, 10/15/2015]

World Bank may compensate Syria’s neighbors for refugee costs
The World Bank plans to discuss the possibility of compensating Syria’s neighbors for the substantial financial cost of hosting refugees for long periods of time, Senior Advisor to the World Bank President Colin Bruce said in Geneva on Thursday. “We recognize that for many of these countries there’s a cost associated with hosting with refugees and they need to be compensated,” Bruce said. “It’s actually quite significant for countries like Jordan, for Lebanon and for Turkey, and some estimates put that at about 1.1 to 1.4 percent of [gross domestic product].” He noted that the World Bank is prepared to enter into a dialogue with it shareholders regarding compensation, particularly for middle-income countries “that do not have access to concessional resources.” Humanitarian officials have previously said that the World Bank’s rules forbid it from making grants to middle-income countries such as Lebanon. Bruce added that the bank is also mindful of the fact that refugees and migrants could have a positive economic impact over the longer term, and it is seeking to advise governments about policies that would generate a dividend from hosting displaced people. [Reuters, 10/15/2015]