Foreign Policy Situation Report: ISIS chemical weapons use and war crimes in Palmyra



Aleppo. After a brief ceasefire Tuesday brokered by Russia and Turkey to allow civilians to flee Aleppo fell apart on Wednesday, some 50,000 people remain trapped in rebel-held zones in the eastern part of the city. Both the Syrian government and the rebels accuse the other of opening fire first, but civilians in rebel neighborhoods are reporting heavy shelling and renewed airstrikes.

Locals are claiming that Iranian-backed Shiite militias -- who led the fighting in the city -- are refusing to allow civilian to leave, and The Guardian tells us that  Yasser al-Youssef, a spokesman for one of the anti-government groups, “said Russia was attempting to convince the Assad government to accept the ceasefire. The Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, said discussions were ongoing with Russia and Iran to continue the planned evacuations.”

Tens of thousands of civilians have been streaming into the government-held western half of Aleppo, or making a break for the countryside. Government forces control virtually the entire city after years of grinding war that has left the historic city a shattered ruin, with thousands dead.

Syria

We're learning more about reports of chemical weapons use in Palmyra. The Guardianreports that locals in the city recently retaken by the Islamic State say 93 people died from an apparent chemical weapons attack following airstrikes on five villages held by the group. The head of a regional council Ahmad al Hamawi described symptoms among the dead — convulsions, foaming at the mouth — consistent with sarin gas usage. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has attributed chlorine gas attacks to both the Islamic State and the Assad regime in the past. In 2013, Western intelligence services as well as Human Rights Watch concluded that the Assad regime carried out an attack on a rebel-held neighborhood in Damascus with a nerve agent.

Reports about Assad regime forces carrying out war crimes against civilians trapped in east Aleppo have raised alarm bells as observes rush to monitor the situation. Now, according to the BBC, a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said that Assad regime forces have killed at least 82 people, including women and children. Separately, the humanitarian White Helmets group said that 70 people remain trapped under the rubble of the bombed out city, unable to get out.

The Islamic State

The weapons-monitoring group Conflict Armament Research (CAR) tagged along with Iraqi forces entering Mosul in November and got an up close look inside the Islamic State's weapons industry. Emphasis on the industry. According to a new report from CAR, the terrorist group created a "complex, centrally controlled industrial production system" for churning out weapons. The "improvised" weapons made by the Islamic State include mortar rounds and rockets all machined to uniform standards complete with quality control processes to ensure the weapons. The end result, according to CAR, is an Islamic State weapons industry whose products would "easily conform to national military specifications."

The Pentagon says an early December airstrike in Syria killed three members of the Islamic State, two of whom played a role in orchestrating the group's deadly November 2015 attacks in Paris. Reuters reports that plotters Salah Gourmat and Sammy Djedou alongside Walid Hamman, whom Belgium convicted of trying to carry out another attack the same year. A drone strike hit their call, killing all three.

Libya

The Islamic State's last territorial stronghold in Libya has fallen but conflict between the country's warring factions continue. War Is Boring reports on the recent attempt by the Islamist Benghazi Defense Brigade to seize oil terminals in the country's oil crescent from the country's internationally-recognized government based in Tripoli's Libyan National Army (LNA). The LNA responded with Mi-35 helicopter gunships and MiG-21 fighters scrambled to intercept convoys from the Benghazi Defense Brigade, forcing a retreat by the group and its allies after a half hour of airstrikes.

The Department of Pew

A new study by the Air Force says that strapping lasers to AC-130Js is likely within the realm of doable. Flight Global reports that a new study by the Air Force Scientific Advisory Board says that existing laser technology is promising and could work with the existing power sources on board with Air Force Special Operations Command (AFSOC) AC-130Js. The finding could tee up a near term demonstration of the concept. AFSOC officials have been arguing for the past year that lasers would add a valuable capability to their gunships.



©2016 The Slate Group, LLC. All rights reserved. Foreign Policy

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