Iran/Yemen/United States – US Navy ships in the Arabian Sea intercepted and seized an arms shipment from Iran likely bound for Houthi militias in Yemen, the military said in a statement on the 5 Apr 16. The weapons seized last week by the warships Sirocco and Gravely were hidden on a small dhow and included 1,500 AK-47 rifles, 200 rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers, and 21 .50-caliber machine guns, according to the Navy statement. The weapons were seized on the 28 Mar 16 and are now in US custody. The boat, which the Navy described as stateless, and its crew were allowed to leave once the weapons had been removed. “This seizure is the latest in a string of illicit weapons shipments assessed by the US to have originated in Iran that were seized in the region by naval forces,” the military said in the statement. It cited a Feb. 27 incident in which the Australian Navy intercepted a dhow in late February and confiscated nearly 2,000 AK-47s, 100 RPG launchers, and other weapons. On March 20, a French destroyer seized almost 2,000 AK-47s, dozens of Dragunov sniper rifles, nine antitank missiles, and other equipment. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on the 4 Apr 16 that Iran’s support for the Houthis is an example of its “destabilizing activities” in the region, and that the weapons shipment could be raised at the United Nations Security Council. “We obviously are concerned about this development, because offering up support to the rebels in Yemen is something that is not at all consistent with UN Security Council resolutions,” Earnest said. US officials have said in the past that Iran’s direct involvement with the Houthis is limited, but that Iranian military personnel were training and equipping Houthi units. UN-sponsored peace talks are scheduled to start in Kuwait on the 18 Apr 16. The two sides confirmed a truce starting at midnight on the 10 Apr 16 ahead of the peace talks, scheduled to follow a week later.
Iran/West – A top Iranian official on the 15 Apr 16 accused the US and the European Union of failing to honour last year’s nuclear deal by keeping Iran locked out of the international financial system. The White House insisted Washington is committed to fulfilling its part of the accord and said Tehran wants concessions that weren’t part of the deal. The historic accord took effect in Jan 16 and envisions Iran curtailing its nuclear program in exchange for billions of dollars in sanctions relief. The head of Iran’s central bank, Valiollah Seif, said in a speech on the 15 Apr that Iran’s counterparts have not lived up to their commitments and that “almost nothing” has been done as part of the deal. “In general, we are not able to use our frozen funds abroad,” Seif said at the Council on Foreign Relations through a translator. Seif was in Washington to attend the spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. “They (Iran’s partners) have not honoured their obligations.” He urged Washington to do more to encourage international banks to do business with Iran and ease Iran’s access to US financial institutions. Otherwise, he said, the deal “breaks up on its own terms.” He did not elaborate. White House press secretary Josh Earnest insisted on the 15 Apr that Western nations are doing their part. “The United States, along with the rest of the international community, is committed to living up to our end of the bargain,” he told reporters. Earnest said that the agreement does not involve giving Iran access to the US financial system and that such a move is not being contemplated. State Department spokesman John Kirby said the US already has fulfilled its part of the nuclear deal. “There is no need to do more, when we have met all of our commitments,” Kirby told reporters later in the day. The nuclear pact provided Iran sanctions relief for curtailing programs that could lead to nuclear weapons. But the Iranians say they haven’t benefited to the extent envisioned under the deal because of other US measures linked to human rights, terrorism and missile development concerns. The Obama administration has been toying with the idea of easing financial restrictions that prevent US dollars from being used in transactions that enable business with Iran, but it is facing fierce resistance from lawmakers who believe that Tehran would be getting more than it deserves from the nuclear accord. Seif reiterated that Teheran’s nuclear program is meant strictly for peaceful purposes, but he argued for Iran's right to defend itself, including by developing missiles, saying the country is located in a highly volatile region where the Islamic State group is on the rise. “Based on experience, based on our history, Iran has come to the conclusion that we should rely on our own capabilities, those capabilities that can be used for defensive purposes, defence against any kind of invasion,” Seif said. Asked how much Iran has spent on its nuclear efforts, Seif declined to provide a figure but said the program has been successful. “Definitely we have done some investments, and of course it has been worth the effort,” he said.
Iraq/Da’esh – At least 62 people have been killed and about 83 injured during a wave of suspected Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) attacks on military posts and civilian neighbourhoods across Iraq, officials said on the 4 Apr 16. In the worst of the 4 Apr attacks, at least 26 troops were killed when a car bomb went off in the city of al Baghdadi, which is west of the strategically vital Anbar province and near Ain Al Asad air base. A police source from Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, said that at least six pro-government militia fighters were killed and 18 others injured in two separate ISIL attacks there. Thirteen other members of the security forces were killed in an attack on a military barracks east of Fallujah. In a suicide blast that targeted the Iraqi prime minister's convoy as it travelled through the Meshahda area Baghdad, at least three pro-government militia fighters were killed and 10 injured. Three people were killed and 12 injured when a suicide bomber detonated himself at a security checkpoint north of Baghdad. The incident happened near Al-Muthana bridge, which links the capital with northern towns and cities like Samara and Tikrit. In the southern city of Nassiriyah, police sources said at least five civilians were killed and 23 injured in a bombing at a local restaurant in Tel Al-Laham town. In the centre of Basra city, at least 5 civilians were killed and 11 wounded after a parked car exploded at an intersection. Two civilians were killed and seven injured when two mortar shells hit the residential area of Al-Nassar neighbourhood – part of Abu Ghraib town – west of Baghdad. The series of bombings came as Iraqi forces continued a campaign to wrestle back control of parts of Anbar province and Mosul city - which was seized by ISIL in 2014.
Syria – The spokesman for al-Qaeda's Syrian affiliate, al-Nusra Front, his son and 20 other fighters have been reported killed in air strikes in the northeast of the country it was reported on the 4 Apr 16. Abu Firas al-Suri was meeting with other leading fighters in an al-Nusra stronghold, Kafar Jales, when the raids happened on the 3 Apr 16 the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Sources in the north of the country said they believed the raids were carried out by the US-led coalition operating over Syria and Iraq. Other sources told the Reuters news agency the attacks appeared to have the hallmarks of US drone strikes. A US security official said Washington was aware of reports on the killing but had no further information to offer on the 3 Apr 16. Coalition forces have previously targeted al-Nusra Front leaders in Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights had earlier said the strikes may have been launched by Syrian government or Russian fighter jets. Al-Suri, whose real name was Radwan Nammous, fought against Soviet forces in Afghanistan when he met Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and his mentor Abdullah Azzam before returning to Syria after the uprising began in 2011. A temporary ceasefire between government forces and rebels has largely held since the 27 Feb 16 but al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant group (ISIL) were not involved in that deal. The cessation has, in fact, analysts say, allowed Russia and the US-led coalition that has been bombing ISIL, also known as ISIS, to concentrate their battle against the fighters. On the 30 Mar 16 a drone strike near ISIL's de facto capital, Raqqa, killed Tunisian commander Abu al-Haija, according to the Observatory, the latest in a series of blows to the group in recent weeks. Fifteen ISIL commanders accused of revealing his position have since been executed, the Observatory said, and the fate of another 20 men accused of collaborating with the US-led coalition is unknown. On the 3 Apr 16 the Syrian army seized the city of al-Qaryatain, one of the last ISIL strongholds in central Syria, according to state television.
Syria – Syrian forces, backed by Russian air strikes, fought the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group out of the town of al-Qaryatain after gradually surrounding it over the past few days, state media said on the 4 Apr 16. Surrounded by hills, al-Qaryatain is 100km west of the ancient city of Palmyra, which government forces recaptured from ISIL on the 27 Mar 16. Al-Qaryatain had been held by ISIL since late Aug 15. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has been trying to retake al-Qaryatain and other pockets of ISIL control to reduce the group's ability to project military power into the heavily populated western region of Syria, where Damascus and other main cities are located. State news agency SANA said the army and its allies "fully restored security and stability to al-Qaryatain after killing the last remaining groups of Da’esh terrorists" in the town. Government forces entered the town from a number of directions, SANA reported. A Syrian military source said that the army had cleared areas northwest of the town of explosives planted by ISIL. ISIL fighters retreating from Palmyra laid thousands of mines which the Syrian army is now clearing before civilians can return. ISIL still has complete control over the city of Raqqa, its de facto capital, and it controls most of Deir Ezzor province in eastern Syria, which borders Iraq.
Syria – ISIS militants attacked Syrian army troops with mustard gas in an offensive against a Syrian military airport in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor that borders Iraq, state media said on the 5 Apr 16. Syrian state media did not disclose how many casualties were sustained in the latest drive by the fundamentalist militants to capture the heavily defended airport located south of Deir Ezzor city, whose main neighbourhoods are under the militant’s control. "The terrorists fired rockets carrying mustard gas," a statement said on state owned Ikhbariyah television station. Deir Ezzor is a strategic location. The province links ISIS 's de facto capital in Raqqa with its fighters in Iraq. Amaq news agency, which is close to the militants, had earlier said ISIS fighters had launched a wide scale attack on Jufrah village near the airport in which it said two of its suicide bombers rammed their vehicles into army defences causing "tens of dead".
Syria – Islamist rebels shot down a Syrian warplane and captured its pilot on the 5 Apr 16 in an area south of Aleppo where insurgents are battling the Syrian army and allied militias, a monitoring group said. Syria's military confirmed that a plane on a reconnaissance mission had been shot down and said it was hit by a surface-to-air missile. The pilot had bailed out and efforts were underway to rescue him, it said. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said fighters from al Qaeda's Nusra Front group captured the pilot and took him to one of their headquarters in the area. There was no immediate rebel comment on the use of an anti-aircraft missile. The Observatory said a plume of smoke was seen as the plane caught fire before it fell in the Talat al-Iss highland, where al Qaeda-affiliated rebels have come under heavy bombardment by Syrian and Russian planes since they captured the area this week. Videos on social media also showed footage of an aircraft and pictures of the wreckage of a burnt plane surrounded by rebels. Aerial supremacy has been a major advantage for the Syrian army that has been battling insurgents seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. Foreign-backed rebels have long demanded anti-aircraft weapons to offset the impact of devastating aerial raids by Syrian forces and, since Sep 15 also by Russian planes. But their backers have been wary of delivering weapons that could fall into the hands of hard-line groups. Last month, Syrian rebels denied a Russian Defence Ministry report that an anti-aircraft missile had been used to shoot down a Syrian warplane in Hama province. Officials in three rebel groups contacted reiterated previous statements that that plane had been shot down with anti-aircraft guns.
Syria/Da’esh – ISIS made gains in northern Syria on 16 Apr 16 from both government forces and their rebel opponents, a monitoring group said. The northern province of Aleppo borders Turkey and is criss-crossed with supply routes that are strategic for practically all of Syria's warring sides. On the 16 Apr ISIS fighters seized another border village in their offensive against non-extremist rebel groups in the province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The ISIS counterattack has rolled back rebel gains in the border area, which had seen advance them from Azaz, a town eight kilometres (five miles) south of the Turkish border, towards ISIS bastions further east. “The ISIS gains have cut off opposition territory around Azaz from rebels in the town of Dudyan further east,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. “Now the rebels in Dudyan are practically surrounded by ISIS.” The extremist group also advanced against government forces near Khanasser, a battleground town southeast of Aleppo that has changed hands several times. The road through Khanasser is the sole link between government-held areas in and around Aleppo and those in the rest of the country. On the 16 Apr ISIS took several hilltops in the area but had not yet cut the supply route, Abdel Rahman said.
Yemen – A suicide bomber detonated an explosives belt near a football stadium in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, killing at least four people, witnesses said. Eight people were wounded in the attack on the 12 Apr 16 which appeared to target young men queuing to sign up for the military. The witnesses said that the four people killed were in addition to the bomber. The attack comes during a ceasefire, and a day before peace talks aimed at ending more than a year of war in a country that has become a subject of dispute for regional powers Saudi Arabia and Iran. A UN spokeswoman, Stephane Dujarric, said on the 11 Apr 16 that the truce appeared to be holding despite "pockets of violence".