Da’esh – There are “extremely worrying” signs that ISIS may be making its own chemical weapons and may have used them already in Iraq and Syria, a global watchdog said on the 3 May 16. The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, Ahmet Uzumcu, said his body’s fact-finding teams have found evidence of the use of sulphur mustard in attacks in the two countries. “Although they could not attribute this to Da’esh... there are strong suspicions that they may have used it (chemical weapons),” Uzumcu said. “Secondly the suspicions are that they may have produced it themselves, which is extremely worrying,” Uzumcu said on the sidelines of a three-day conference at the OPCW’s Hague-based headquarters. “It proves that they have the technology, know-how and also access to the materials which might be used for the production of chemical weapons,” Uzumcu said. CIA director John Brennan in Feb 16 said that ISIS fighters had the capability to make small quantities of chlorine and mustard gas. Uzumcu did not point to any specific attacks, but last month ISIS mounted a deadly gas attack against Syrian troops at a government-controlled airbase outside the divided eastern city of Deir Ezzor, according to the SANA state news agency. The attack was the latest in a string of suspected mustard gas attacks by the group in Syria and neighbouring Iraq. On the 9 Mar 16 a suspected ISIS gas attack on the Iraqi town of Taza, south of Kirkuk, killed three children and injured some 1,500 people, with injuries ranging from burns to rashes and respiratory problems. While chemical agents allegedly used by ISIS so far have been among its least effective weapons, the psychological impact on civilians is considerable. A total of 25,000 people fled their homes in and around Taza last month, fearing another attack. Uzumcu also urged vigilance by other nations to guard against any chemical attacks outside Syria and Iraq. “The international community should be very vigilant to such threats and cooperate further to prevent such attacks from occurring elsewhere,” Uzumcu said. Russia last month pushed for measures at the United Nations to monitor extremist groups fighting in Syria, warning of a “clear and present threat” that they could stage chemical attacks, possibly in Europe. Russia and China presented a draft Security Council resolution that calls on all countries, in particular those neighbouring Syria such as Turkey and Iraq, to report any move by armed groups to acquire or produce chemical weapons. “All neighbouring countries so Syria and Iraq should... do their utmost to prevent such activities,” Uzumcu said. 361 COMMENT: There have been numerous reports over the last couple of years regarding Da’esh and its capability of attempting to make and attacking different locations with a chemical agent. Whilst at the moment these attacks appear to be limited to Iraq and Syria the rest of the international community needs to be vigilant especially in locations where terrorist organisation claim to be affiliated with the group. Cross fertilization of knowledge means that one group talks to another etc and passes on or trains others in the use of a new terrorist tactic and weapon. Da’esh will be no different and may use this exploitation to earn more cash in its dwindling banks. In countries where there is little rule or law the exploitation of this knowledge couple with peoples fear will cause the international community a number of problems. COMMENT ENDS
Da’esh – Islamic State (ISIS) technicians are working to develop a Google-style driverless car that could navigate itself into a crowded area before detonating an explosive device, a NATO security expert has warned on the 2 May 16. ISIS' research and development department in the terror group's de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa, is believed to be producing the vehicles at the same time as US Internet giant Google attempts to perfect the same technology. If successful, the invention could prove to be a major headache for security services in Britain and throughout Europe and North America, where self-driving cars are expected to become commonplace. Thousands of driverless cars are expected to be on Britain's roads within the next few years and there is a very real prospect jihadis could prey on the new technology to launch attacks in the UK. Jamie Shea, NATO's deputy assistant secretary general for emerging security threats, said the Islamic extremists were using their bomb making factory in Raqqa to develop the technology. He said ISIS was using its "technical expertise" to "play around" with driverless cars in a "worrying" development. Shea said: "We are focusing very much on...Raqqa at the moment, where ISIL [ISIS] has its bomb making factory. "It is not just Google that is producing the autonomous car, ISIS is also trying to do the same." The technology would remove the need for suicide bombers and could help the death cult - also known by its Arabic acronym Da’esh - cope with the dramatic drop in its numbers, which has seen its fighting force cut almost in half. The FBI has long argued autonomous cars could be used by criminals as lethal weapons.
Iran – Iran has passed a law allowing the government to grant citizenship to the families of foreigners killed while fighting for the Islamic republic, the official IRNA news agency reported on the 2 May 16. “Members of the parliament authorized the government to grant Iranian citizenship to the wife, children and parents of foreign martyrs who died on a mission... during the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and afterwards,” it said. Citizenship must be awarded “within a maximum period of one year after the request”, IRNA added. Iran’s outgoing conservative-dominated parliament will serve until late May. No figures are available on the number of foreign fighters killed during the Iran-Iraq war, but Afghans, and even a group of Iraqis, fought alongside Iranian forces against the regime of Saddam Hussein. The law could apply to “volunteers” from Afghanistan and Pakistan who are fighting in Syria and Iraq against jihadists including the Islamic State group and Al-Nusra Front. Shiite Iran is a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and provides financial and military support to his regime. Tehran says its Fatemiyoun Brigade, comprised of Afghan recruits, are volunteers defending sacred Shiite sites in Syria and Iraq against Sunni extremists like those of IS. The Islamic republic denies having any boots on the ground and insists its commanders and generals act as “military advisers” in Syria and Iraq. Iranian media regularly report on the death of Afghan and Pakistani volunteers in Syria and Iraq, whose bodies are buried in Iran. More than three million Afghans live in Iran, one million as legal migrants.
Iran/Moqtada al-Sadr – A local news website Kulul Iraq - close to the ruling Dawa Party - said Iraq’s Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who recently called on his followers to storm the fortified Green Zone in the capital Baghdad to bring forth reforms promised by the country’s premier, has visited Iran it was reported on the 3 May 16. The Fars News Agency, which is close to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, also reported that Sadr has recently visited the Islamic republic, quoting a well-informed source in Iraq’s Najaf Airport saying: “Sadr, accompanied by two clerics, departed [the holy city of Najaf for Shiite Muslims in Iraq] on board a jet for an Iranian airliner.” However, hours after the report was published, the state-run IRNA news agency denied the news and quoted a government source, when it said: “Moqtada al-Sadr has no intention of visiting Iran and he has not travelled to Tehran.” IRNA added that news of Sadr’s visit to Tehran is a “lie” propagated by some “Arabic language websites.” Meanwhile, sources, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told the Arabic-language Al Arabiya Net that Sadr’s visit to Iran is “rumours” spread by the Dawa Party. Dawa Party is led by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, who is reportedly close to Iran. One source in Iraq also confirmed to Al Arabiya Net that Sadr is in his home city of Najaf, adding that the Dawa Party is behind spreading the rumour of his visit to Tehran. Dia al-Asadi, who heads Al-Ahrar bloc – the political arm of the Sadrist Movement, said in a statement: “I think this issue of Sadr’s travel - if he did in fact travel and I do not know if he did - has taken some strange dimensions. The man has relatives in all of Iraq, [Lebanon’s capital] Beirut and Iran.” On the 1 May 16 anti-government protesters - many of them are Sadr followers - temporarily ended their mass demonstration in the Green Zone and began an orderly withdrawal a day after tearing down walls around the government district and invading parliament. The conflicted reports about whether Sadr visited Iran comes after videos circulated online showed his followers chanting during their protests: “Iran, out, out.” The article first appeared in the Arabic language website of Al Arabiya News Channel. 361 COMMENT: Odd that the Iranian news report that Sadre was in Iran, later there is no mention and then claim it was a propaganda stunt. It is not news to say that Sadre has lived in Iran in the past because his “studies” led him there. It would be naive to think that somewhere along the path this individual with a huge amount of followers from the largest majority in Iraq would not be courted by the Iranians for whatever use in the future. It must also be pointed out that the Iranians would also court other leading Shi’ite figures in different countries in the region such as Bahrain and even the Saudis have accused Iran of meddling in its countries affairs. COMMENT ENDS
Iran/Straits of Hormuz – An Iranian general on the 4 May 16 warned that Iran would close the Strait of Hormuz – a strategic passage between the Islamic republic and its Arab Gulf neighbours – if the United States and its allies threaten Tehran. But the comments, made by the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards and carried on state television, hold questionable weight, analysts say. “If the Americans and their regional allies want to pass through the Strait of Hormuz and threaten us, we will not allow any entry,” said deputy commander Hossein Salami. He did not go into detail on what he or other leaders would consider a threat. “Americans cannot make safe any part of the world.” Matteo Legrenzi, an international relations professor at the University of Venice, said that the threat was mostly a way for Iranian authorities to “signal displeasure.” Iran’s threat to close the Strait of Hormuz is mostly just a way to ‘signal displeasure,’ an analyst said. “Often, the threat comes from individual actors or institutions within Iran for domestic political reasons,” Legrenzi added. Last week, run-off elections gave moderates and reformists a working majority in an Iranian parliament – their first in over 10 years. Hardliners won just under a third of seats. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, meanwhile, who have a hand in the country’s economy, represent more radical and hard-line elements in Tehran’s political system. “Iran has no interest in escalating the situation and going from a rhetorical threat to an actual military confrontation,” the academic added. David Mack, a scholar at the Washington-based Middle East Institute think-tank and former US envoy to the United Arab Emirates, called the general’s warning a “very rash comment.” “I’m not at all certain that it fully reflects the view of the Iranian leadership,” he added. But if Iran were to follow through with its “asymmetrical” strategy and block the Strait, it could have considerable consequences, said Jean-Marc Rickli, an assistant professor at the King’s College London’s department of defence studies. An average of 14 tankers per day pass through the Strait, making up 35 percent of the world’s seaborne oil shipment and 20 percent of oil traded worldwide. Both Iran and its Gulf neighbours are heavily dependent on oil revenues. Iran threatened to block the Strait half a decade ago. In response, the US and a coalition of allies then sent ships to the Strait to deter further Iranian action. “The current crisis has therefore some potential for escalation,” said Rickli. “[But] considering the policy of Iran to attract businesses since the lifting of sanctions last Jan 16 an Iranian move to close the Strait would however completely undermine this policy and lead to renewed isolation of Tehran,” he added. Despite a nuclear deal signed between Iran and six world powers - including the US – in Jul 16, the two countries have hostile, fractious ties. In Jan 16 Iran’s Revolutionary Guards captured ten US sailors who entered Iranian waters. Although the sailors were released less than a day later, state TV showed footage of the sailors on their knees with their hands on their heads. The same month, an unarmed Iranian drone flew over a US aircraft carrier in the Arabian Gulf, the first since 2014. The remarks by the general come two days after Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said that Iran had to “show off” its military might in the Arabian Gulf. “This is how bullying powers must be countered,” Khamenei added. In his remarks, the supreme leader referred to a failed 1961 invasion where US-backed rebels made a failed attempt to invade Cuba and overthrow its communist, Soviet-allied government. “Go back to the Bay of Pigs. Go and hold exercises there.”
Iran/Missile Test – Iran successfully tested a precision-guided medium-range ballistic missile two weeks ago, a military official said on the 9 May 16 as Tehran continues to bolster what it insists is a purely defensive arsenal. The Islamic Republic has worked to improve the range and accuracy of its missiles over the past year, which it says will make them a more potent deterrent with conventional warheads against its enemy Israel. "We tested a missile with a range of 2,000 kms (1,240 miles) and eight meters error margin two weeks ago. An eight-meter error margin means ... full accuracy," the Tasnim news agency quoted Brigadier General Ali Abdollahi as saying. The United States and some European powers have said other recent tests violate a United Nations resolution that prohibits Iran from firing any missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. Iran says the missiles are not designed to carry nuclear warheads, which it does not possess. Washington has imposed new sanctions on Tehran over recent tests, even after it lifted nuclear-related sanctions in Jan 16 as Tehran implemented the nuclear deal it reached with world powers last year. Iran's top leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in Mar 16 that missile development was key to the Islamic Republic's future, in order to maintain its defensive power and resist threats from its enemies.
Iraq – A car bomb targeting Shiite pilgrims killed at least 14 people in southern Baghdad on Monday, security and medical sources said on the 2 May 16. An Iraqi security command said a suicide bomber detonated the explosives-rigged vehicle, while other officials said it was a car bomb. At least 14 people were killed and at least 41 others wounded, security and medical officials said. They said several women and children were among the victims. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the explosion, but such attacks are usually carried out by the Islamic State jihadist group. ISIS perpetrated a similar attack against pilgrims on the outskirts of Baghdad on the 30 Apr 16 killing at least 23 people. Many of the main thoroughfares in the city are closed in the days leading up to the annual commemoration of Imam Musa Kadhim's death, an important date in the Shiite Muslim calendar. Kadhim, the seventh of 12 imams revered in Shiite Islam, died in 799 AD. The pilgrimage to his shrine in northern Baghdad has in recent years turned into a huge event that brings the capital to a standstill for days. The main commemoration at the shrine in Baghdad's Kadhimiya neighbourhood will take place on the 3 May 16.
Iraq – A US Navy Seal has been killed in battle with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) - the third American death in Iraq since Washington launched a campaign against the group. A US defense official said on 3 May 16 that the soldier, Charlie Keating IV, was killed by "direct fire" and in "an orchestrated attack" after ISIL fighters used suicide bombers and heavy weaponry to break through Kurdish peshmerga defences north of its Mosul stronghold. He was said to be part of a small team advising the peshmerga at a camp near Tal Asquf, about 5km from the frontline. The official said: "They [Navy Seals] fought, but they're a small number and they're not supposed to be in direct contact." He said other soldiers left by helicopter after the Seal was shot. Last month, the United States announced it was deploying additional forces to Iraq, bringing the official total to more than 4,000. Two US military personnel have already been killed by ISIL in Iraq: an American Marine by rocket fire in Mar 16 and a Special Forces soldier who died of wounds received during a raid on a prison last Oct 15. Obama has repeatedly pledged that there would be no "boots on the ground" to combat ISIL, but the administration has since sought to define the term as meaning something other than American forces being on the ground and in combat. The attack came as the United Nations said that fighting with ISIL in northern Iraq could displace another 30,000 people, adding to millions who have already fled their homes. Under a stepped-up campaign of US-led and Russian air strikes, as well as ground assaults by multiple forces in each country, ISIL is estimated to have lost about 40 percent of its territory in Iraq and more than 20 percent in Syria. At its highest point in the summer of 2014, the group had overrun nearly a third of each country, declaring a "caliphate" spanning from north-western Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad.
Iraq/United Kingdom – UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon says his country will send more British troops to Iraq to train Iraqi forces in the fight against Takfiri Da’esh terrorists. Fallon made the announcement ahead of a meeting of defence ministers and representatives from 12 countries from the so-called anti-Da’esh coalition in the German city of Stuttgart on the 4 May 16. "Make no mistake! Iraqi forces have Da’esh on the back foot and are retaking territory, hitting its finances and striking its leadership. Now is the time to build on recent success and we are looking hard at what more we can offer as Iraqi combat operations intensify," Fallon said. The exact number of the British forces has not been declared, but sources say the "trainers and engineers" could number in the "low hundreds." Some 300 UK military personnel are currently in Iraq, training Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga fighters. The British minister also said that London plans to provide Peshmerga fighters with more ammunition for their machine guns. During the 4 May 16 meeting, officials from the US-led collation agreed to do more in their purported campaign against Da’esh terrorists. Following the meeting, US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said, "We… agreed that all of our friends and allies across the counter-ISIL (Da’esh) coalition can and must do more." The US and some of its allies have allegedly been conducting airstrikes against Da’esh extremists in Iraq since August 2014. The US-led coalition also started air raids against purported Da’esh positions in Syria without any authorization from Damascus or a UN mandate in September 2014. Many have criticized the ineffectiveness of the two campaigns.
Iraq/Da’esh/Fallujah – ISIS in Iraq has trapped around 2,000 families in two villages south of a city in the western province of Anbar, and is using them as human shields, local media reported the head of a police department as saying on the 7 May 16. “The terrorist organization ISIS has trapped around 2,000 families, most of the people are women, children and elderly in Albu Hawa and Hasi in the northern al-Amiriya district south of Fallujah,” Lieutenant Colonel Arif al-Janabi, the head of the police district, told the local Anbar News outlet. ISIS also arrested dozens of young men from the two villages, Janabi added. “ISIS is using people of the two villages as human shields and not allowing them to leave,” Janabi added, describing “the security forces and tribal fighters” as being “ready to liberate these two villages and break the siege.” The city of Fallujah was seized by ISIS in Jan 14. With an estimated population of 90,000, it is the militant group’s stronghold in Sunni-dominated Anbar. In Apr 16, the Iraqi government approved aid to be delivered to people in Fallujah after a long siege.
Iraq – suicide bomber has blown himself up at a market in a town north of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, killing at least four security personnel, hours after gunmen killed 12 people at a cafe in the same town. At least 25 people were also wounded in the attack on the restaurant in the mainly Shia town of Balad, hospital and police sources said on the 13 May 16. The attackers used machineguns to spray the cafe with bullets from cars parked outside for about 10 minutes before leaving the scene. They passed three police checkpoints before reaching their target, police sources said. The town is about 40km from a frontline held by Shia militiamen, which was almost overrun by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group in 2014. Iraqi authorities have faced criticism over security breaches after suicide attackers set off three bombs on the 11 May 16 in Baghdad killing at least 80 people in the bloodiest day for the city so far this year.
Israel – Israel said on the 3 May 16 that customs officials thwarted a plot to smuggle explosive materials into the Hamas-run Gaza Strip. Israel's Tax Authority said inspectors uncovered four tons of ammonium chloride - enough to produce hundreds of rockets- hidden inside sacks of salt about two weeks ago as the shipment was being transferred to Gaza. “This case underscores the activity of Gaza-based terrorist organizations in smuggling dual-use materials disguised as goods destined for the civilian population and reconstruction projects,” it said. Along with explosives, ammonium chloride can also be used in fertilizer and other products. Israel's Shin Bet security service became suspicious after unusually large quantities of salt were ordered by a Gaza importer with ties to the militant group Hamas, the tax authority said. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 after Hamas seized power from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Humanitarian aid and goods enter Gaza via Israeli crossings. Other goods are smuggled in through tunnels from neighbouring Egypt. 361 COMMENT: Sadly the article does not mention where the shipment came from or who the suppliers were. But it is well known that the majority of imports will come from Iran. This maybe another case. COMMENT ENDS
Israel – Earlier on the 3 May 16 the Israeli military demolished the home of a Palestinian attacker who gunned down two Israelis in front of their children last year. Ziad Amer, the father of suspected killer Zeid, said Israeli troops in dozens of army vehicles raided the town of Nablus and demolished the family's apartment. He said his appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court against the demolition was rejected. The military says Amer was part of a five-member Hamas cell that shot and killed US citizen Eitam Henkin and his wife Naama as they drove in the northern West Bank on the 1 Oct 15. Their four young children in the back of the car escaped unharmed. Israel says it carries out housing demolitions to deter attacks. The Palestinians consider it to be a form of collective punishment. Since mid-Sept 15 Palestinians have carried out dozens of assaults on civilians and security forces, killing 28 Israelis and two Americans. Some 200 Palestinians have been killed over the same time; the vast majority in what Israel says have been attacks or attempted attacks.
Israel – The deputy chief of staff of the Israeli military warned that Hezbollah poses an “unprecedented” threat to Israel, and that any future war with the Iran-backed terrorist group will be “devastating,” it was reported on the 2 May 16. “In any future crisis, they are not going to see a small war in Lebanon,” Maj. Gen. Yair Golan said of Hezbollah, which according to Israeli estimates has stockpiled over 100,000 missiles. “It’s going to be decisive. It’s going to be full-scale war.” He observed that Hezbollah’s tactic of embedding its military assets in civilian areas means that a future conflict “could create devastating damage to Lebanon.” “There is no other way to take out this threat without … creating large damage to the Lebanese infrastructure, to Lebanese houses and other civilian facilities,” Golan added. Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah said in Feb 16 that the terror group’s missiles were capable of causing damage in Israel equivalent to a nuclear bomb detonation, killing tens of thousands, by targeting ammonia storage tanks located in Haifa. The Tower reports that during a meeting with Nasrallah in Aug 15, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif boasted that the nuclear deal presented “a historic opportunity” to confront Israel. Before the deal was completed, former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an ally of current president Hassan Rouhani, said that Israel feared the agreement because it would strengthen Iran. He added that one day Israel would be “wiped off the map.” An Israeli defence official told the New York Times last May that the build-up of Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure in southern Lebanese villages meant that “civilians are living in a military compound” and that their lives were at risk. A few days later, a newspaper linked to Hezbollah confirmed the Israeli assessment. Two years ago it was reported that Hezbollah exploited civilians by offering reduced price housing to Shiite families who allowed the terrorist group to hide rocket launchers in their homes. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1701, which was passed unanimously to end the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, forbids the transfer of weaponry to Hezbollah. However, Iran has continued to arm Hezbollah and the Security Council has refused to act to enforce the resolution.
Israel – The Israeli military said it has carried out air strikes on four Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on the 5 May 16 in response to what it said were mortar rounds fired into its territory. The Gaza Health Ministry said three children and a 65-year-old suffered light-to-moderate wounds in a strike that hit a metal workshop in the besieged Palestinian enclave. The Israeli army said it hit what it called "terrorist infrastructure sites" early on the 5 May 16 and the sites belonged to Hamas, which governs Gaza. Palestinian media said an outpost of the Islamic Jihad group was also targeted. Israel also said it struck five Hamas targets on the 4 May 16 in what it said was a response to a mortar shell fired towards its forces near the Gaza. The army said no soldiers were harmed in those attacks. Israeli military spokesman Lt Colonel Peter Lerner called it the "most serious" escalation since the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza that killed more than 2,000 people, mostly Palestinians.
Israel/Hamas – The Israeli Defence Forces has found a Hamas tunnel extending into Israeli territory for the second time in three weeks, the IDF announced on the 5 May 16. The concrete-fortified tunnel is 90 feet below ground and is only a few kilometres away from a tunnel that was discovered in Apr 16, the IDF said. That was the first tunnel found to have extended into Israel since the end of Operation Protective Edge, the war with Hamas that took place in the summer of 2014. Israeli troops working to uncover the latest tunnel were fired upon on the 4 May 16 by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. No Israelis were injured. It was the sixth time in two days that Israeli troops near Gaza were targeted by gunfire or mortar rounds. Israel responded by shelling observation posts and other Hamas targets in Gaza, injuring four, the Times of Israel reported. “The IDF considers above and below-ground terror activity a violation of the State of Israel’s sovereignty and a threat to its citizens and deems Hamas solely responsible,” a spokesperson said. “It is our job to locate and destroy them.” The spokesman said that the tunnel was found about 100 meters inside Gaza, the first time that Israeli officials have confirmed IDF operations in Gaza since the end of Operation Protective Edge. The tunnel was discovered using new technology combined with extensive intelligence-gathering, the IDF said. At least twelve Palestinians have reportedly been killed this year constructing the tunnels, which have been used to ferry attackers into Israeli territory as well as smuggle goods and weapons. Hamas pays over 1,000 operatives to build tunnels and “invests hundreds of thousands of dollars each month in digging activities,” Israel Radio reported last month. Israel’s continued detection and destruction of the tunnels has forced Hamas to resort to other methods to sneak in weapons and similar material. Israeli border officials discovered four tons of ammonium chloride, which can be used to make rockets and other explosives, hidden in a 40-ton shipment of salt bound for Gaza.
Syria – Government forces have encircled a prison in the central Syrian city of Hama as prisoners reportedly took captive the warden and several guards during heavy clashes it was reported on the 3 May 16. The prison uprising broke out in response to the government's plans to forcibly transfer several detainees to Sednaya, an infamous prison near Damascus. Government forces surrounded the prison and fired tear gas in an effort to quell the unrest, according to sources in the jail and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said the prisoners, many of whom are detained without charge, demanded "basic rights", including a fair trial or release. In response, the Ajnad al-Sham rebel group vowed to attack government forces and armed groups loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad if the prisoners' demands were not met. In a statement released on the 2 May 16 Ajnad al-Sham claimed the government had threatened to "storm the prison and execute all the prisoners without a trial". The group added: "Our brothers inside the prison are still carrying out the uprising and have taken complete control of the building. We in Ajnad al-Sham declare... our full readiness to strike [government-allied] militias in Maharda and al-Suqaylabiyah." The state news agency SANA said an official in the interior ministry had dismissed claims "in some media" about an uprising in the prison. In a December 2015 report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said its researchers had found "evidence of widespread torture, starvation, beatings, and disease" in government jails and detention centres.
Syria/Da’esh – ISIS militants on then 5 May 16 captured the main Shaer gas field in eastern Syria in the first gain for the ultra hard-line fighters in the Palmyra desert area since they lost the ancient city in Mar 16, rebel sources and a monitor said. Amaq, a news agency affiliated to the militants, said they had taken over the gas field area and its facility where Syrian troops were stationed and killed at least 30 soldiers and gained large caches of heavy weapons including tanks and missiles. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed the militants seizure of the gas field area that lies roughly 150 km northwest of Palmyra after a three-day assault. The militants were able to seize the area despite heavy aerial bombing to push them back, it said. The militants had captured the gas field and nearby gas facilities in Homs province on several occasions but had lost it late in 2014 although they continued to attack government forces stationed in the area.
Syria/al-Qaeda – The leader of al-Qaeda has urged warring fighters in Syria to unite or risk death while criticising again the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) group in an audio recording. In the clip, posted online on the 8 May 16 Ayman al-Zawahiri criticised the UN-backed political process to find a solution in Syria and praised al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda offshoot which controls most of Idlib province. "We have to want the unity of the Mujahideen in Sham [Syria] so it will be liberated from the Russians and Western Crusaders. My brothers ... the matter of unity is a matter of life or death for you," Zawahiri says. Al-Nusra Front is part of an alliance of armed groups known as Jaish al-Fatah, which is leading battles against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces and his Russian- and Iranian-backed allies in the southern Aleppo countryside. In Jan 16 al-Nusra Front tried unsuccessfully to convince rival Sunni factions - including the powerful Ahrar al-Sham - to merge into one unit. As successor to Osama bin Laden, Zawahiri has the allegiance of al-Qaeda branches in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The authenticity of the recording, the first since January, could not be immediately verified, but it had the hallmarks of previous Zawahiri tapes. He is believed to be hiding in a border area between Afghanistan and Pakistan. In the audio clip, Zawahiri emphasised once again the ideological divide between al-Qaeda and ISIL. He described ISIL as "extremists and renegades" whose followers would eventually disavow their beliefs and methods. Al-Qaeda's dominance is being challenged by ISIL, which controls territory in Syria and Iraq and has branches in Libya and Yemen. Once a single group in Syria, they split in 2013, largely due to a power struggle among leaders. The Syrian uprising, which started with largely peaceful protests in 2011 against the Assad government, has descended into a major conflict that has pulled in regional and global powers. Violence has left at least 250,000 people dead and displaced half the country's pre-war 22 million population. In the latest fighting, Syrian warplanes attacked rebels on the 8 May 16 near the northern city of Aleppo, reports said. Dozens of air strikes hit near Khan Touman, a town south of Aleppo which the Jaish al-Fatah took from forces loyal to the government and Iran on Thursday, according to both fighters and Syrian state media. Aleppo - one of the biggest strategic prizes in the war - has been carved up into government and rebel-held zones. The surrounding region is also crossed by valuable supply routes into neighbouring Turkey. Manar, the media outlet of the Lebanese Hezbollah group supporting Assad's troops in the area, said heavy fighting was going on against rebels. Government forces have made significant advances in the northern region after Russia entered the war on their side in Sep 15. Inside Aleppo, rebels said on the 8 May 16 the Syrian army shelled and bombed overnight their posts near a frontline in the western part of the city near the Jamiyat al-Zahraa neighbourhood. Rebels are seeking to take over the area that would allow them to enter the heart of government-held parts of Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the rebels fired rockets on residential areas in government-controlled areas and in the main Saad al-Jabiri square, with reports of more casualties in the collapse of a building in Midan district which was hit by a missile. In the western Aleppo countryside, in the rebel-held town of Kafrnaha, an air strike hit a hospital, killing several people, SOHR said. For its part, Russia said the truce in Aleppo had been extended until the 9 May 16. Separately, Amaq news agency, which is associated with ISIL, said the group had destroyed a gas plant in the desert outside the central city of Palmyra on the 8 May 16. ISIL fighters retreated from the ancient city two months ago but continue to operate in the surrounding area.
Syria/Hezbollah – Top Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine was killed in an Israeli strike in Syria this week, the Lebanese Shia group has said on the 13 May 16. "He took part in most of the operations of the Islamic resistance since 1982," Hezbollah said in a statement announcing his death on 13 may 16 describing Badreddine as a "great jihadi leader". Badreddine, 55, was one of the highest ranking officials in the group, and assessed by the US government to be responsible for Hezbollah's military operations in Syria, where it is fighting alongside the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. He was killed on the night of the 10 May 16 the Hezbollah statement said, adding that the attack targeted one of its bases near Damascus airport. The group said it was working to "define the nature of the explosion and its cause, and whether it was the result of an air strike, or missile [attack] or artillery". Ali Rizk, a political analyst and an expert on Hezbollah, told Al Jazeera that the attack targeted Hezbollah's operations centre in Damascus. "It was a big explosion which targeted Hezbollah's operations centre in Damascus. Israel is most likely behind the attack. However, it has not yet been confirmed," Rizk said. "Mustafa Badreddine replaced Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in 2008 in an Israeli raid. This will not change Hezbollah's role in Syria at all, on the contrary it will make Hezbollah more determined to stay involved in Syria until the end". The Lebanese TV station Al Mayadeen earlier reported that he had been killed in an Israeli attack. There was no immediate response from Israel which has attacked Hezbollah targets in Syria several times during the country's five-year conflict. "We decline to comment," an Israeli military spokeswoman said. Badreddine, a brother-in-law of Mughniyeh, was indicted by the United Nations-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the 2005 killing of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, and was also sanctioned by the United States. Badreddine was sentenced to death in Kuwait for his role in bomb attacks there in 1983. He escaped from prison in Kuwait after Iraq, under the leadership of Saddam Hussein, invaded the country in 1990.
Syria/Chemical Weapons – A Syrian rebel group that is laying siege to a Kurdish district in Aleppo may have used chemical weapons, as well as so-called "hell cannon" rockets made from gas canisters, according to a rights group. Amnesty International said groups fighting under an alliance known as Jaish al-Fatah have been carrying out indiscriminate attacks on the predominantly Kurdish Sheikh Maqsoud district of the city. The rebels may have used chemical weapons to target civilian homes, markets and mosques, killing and injuring civilians, Amnesty said on the 13 May 16. Among the weapons used by the groups were unguided projectiles, which cannot be accurately aimed, such as mortars, home-made 'Hamim' rockets, and the gas canister rockets, the report said. "Hell cannon" projectiles are usually made with cooking gas canisters, which are packed with explosives and fitted with a fin before being fired from home-made canons. "Two of the armed groups conducting attacks on Sheikh Maqsoud - Ahrar al-Sham and Army of Islam - have sent representatives to the UN-brokered negotiations on Syria in Geneva, while the others have approved delegates to represent them at the talks," Amnesty said. "There are around 30,000 civilians living in Sheikh Maqsoud, a district controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) forces, and the area has come under sustained attack from opposition armed groups who control areas to the north, east and west of the district," the report said. Taj Kordsh, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, an alliance which includes the YPG, Jaish al-Thuwar and other Kurdish groups said there have been several such attacks in recent months. “These attacks targeted civilians in Sheikh Maqsoud. We have proof that these rebel groups obtained these weapons and used them to target residential areas," Kordsh said. Amnesty said it obtained the names of at least 83 civilians, including 30 children, who were killed by attacks in Sheikh Maqsoud between Feb 16 and Apr 16. Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Magdalena Mughrabi said that Sheikh Maqsoud was on the brink of a humanitarian crisis. "It is critical that the Syrian government and armed groups urgently allow unfettered access for humanitarian aid and allow civilians who wish to leave the area to do so," Mughrabi said. On the 9 May 16 government forces and rebels in Aleppo agreed to extend their truce for a second time, according to the Syrian army. A tenuous ceasefire has been in place since Feb 16 brokered by Russia and the United States, but Damascus has continued to bomb rebel-controlled parts of Aleppo. Nearly 300 people have been killed in a recent surge of violence.
Yemen – The Yemeni government suspended direct peace talks to end the country's civil war on the 1 May 16 after the Houthi movement and its armed allies seized a military base north of the capital Sanaa, two members of the official delegation to the talks said. The Houthi assault killed several of the soldiers defending the Umaliqa base. Unlike most of Yemen's soldiers, those at Umaliqa had refused to take sides in the war between the Iran-allied Houthis and the Saudi-backed government. The Houthis had tolerated this neutrality until they launched a surprise push into the facility in Amran province and seized its large cache of weapons at dawn, local officials said. "We have suspended the sessions indefinitely to protest these military actions and continued violations of the truce," one member of the government delegation to the Yemen peace talks in Kuwait said. The delegate declined to be named, citing rules on media commentary at the UN-sponsored peace talks. Representatives from the Houthi movement and the allied party of former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh were not immediately available to comment. Abdel Malek Al Mekhlafi, Yemen’s foreign minister and the government’s top delegate to the negotiations in Kuwait, said in the immediate aftermath of the Houthi assault that it had “torpedoed” the talks. “We will take the appropriate position in response to the Houthi crime at the Umaliqa base in Amran for the sake of our people and country,” he wrote on his official Twitter account, without elaborating. Buttressed by a truce which had been largely holding since the 10 Apr 16 the talks in Kuwait had been inching ahead in recent days and the Houthis said Saudi Arabia had released 40 Yemeni prisoners it had been holding on the 30 Apr 16. For its part, Yemen’s Houthi-run state news agency Saba accused the mostly Gulf Arab coalition and Yemeni government forces of violating the truce 4,000 times, saying shelling, bombing raids and warplane over flights had raised tensions. The war has killed at least 6,200 people and unleashed a humanitarian crisis in the already impoverished country. Yemen’s army has split and military bases and commanders have mostly either taken the Houthi or the government side.
Yemen – The United Nations will start inspecting shipments to militia-held ports in Yemen in a bid to boost commercial imports and enforce an arms embargo, the world body said on the 3 May 16 some eight months after announcing it would establish such a procedure. Yemen relies almost solely on imports, but a 14-month long conflict between Houthi militia and a Saudi Arabian-led coalition has slowed to a trickle commercial shipments to the impoverished country where 80 percent of people need humanitarian aid. The United Nations announced in Sept 15 it would set up a verification and inspection mechanism. Then in Oct 15 UN aid Chief Stephen O’Brien said the United Nations was still trying to raise some $8 million to fund the Djibouti-based operation. It began operations on the 2 May 16 UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said in a statement on the 3 May 16 adding that the European Union, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Britain and the United States had provided financing. “It should provide fast and impartial clearance services for shipping companies transporting commercial imports and bilateral assistance to Yemeni ports outside of the authority of the Government of Yemen,” Dujarric said. The United Nations will ensure commercial shipments to milita-held ports are not carrying weapons in violation of a UN arms embargo.
Yemen/al-Qaeda – Al-Qaeda in Yemen threatened the 4 May 16 to target the homes of officers and soldiers who took part in a government offensive that drove militants out of key areas. Government troops backed by air and ground support from a Saudi-led coalition launched last month a widespread operation against jihadists in south and south-eastern Yemen. “We warn all military leaders and soldiers who participated in the campaign that their houses are now legitimate targets for us,” said an online statement issued by the Abyan province branch of Ansar al-Sharia, another name used by Al-Qaeda in Yemen. Al-Qaeda fighters remain in Zinjibar, the provincial capital of Abyan province, after government forces advanced towards the city in late April. Residents took to the streets demanding the extremists leave to spare the city any fighting. The militants last month fled the key south-eastern city of Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province, and other coastal areas, due to the government offensive. Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is regarded by Washington as the network’s most dangerous branch, and AQAP militants have come under repeated US air and drone strikes.
Yemen/United States – The Pentagon acknowledged for the first time on the 6 May 16 it has deployed US troops to Yemen since the country's collapse last year to bolster government and Arab coalition forces battling Al Qaeda. Spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the US military has also stepped up air strikes against fighters with Yemen-based Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). A "very small number" of American military personnel has been working from a "fixed location" with Yemeni and Arab coalition forces — especially the Emiratis — in recent weeks around Mukalla, a port city seized by AQAP a year ago, Davis said. "This is of great interest to us. It does not serve our interests to have a terrorist organisation in charge of a port city, and so we are assisting in that," the spokesman added. He said the troops were helping the Emiratis with "intelligence support", but declined to say if they are special operations forces. AQAP fighters have now fled Mukalla and other coastal areas, due to the government offensive. While the number of US personnel on the ground is limited, the United States is also offering an array of assistance to partners in Yemen, including air-to-air refuelling capabilities, surveillance, planning, maritime security and medical help. The Pentagon previously had more than 100 special operations forces advising the army in Yemen, but pulled them out early last year as the country collapsed. The US navy also has several ships nearby, including an amphibious assault ship called the USS Boxer and two destroyers. AQAP took advantage of the chaos of fighting between pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels to expand its control in southern Yemen, including the seizure of Mukalla. The Houthi s denounced the return of the US military “with their weapons in southern Yemen and Al Anad airbase,” the largest in the country. American personnel had been deployed at the base gathering intelligence for drone strikes on Al Qaeda until they pulled out in March last year, shortly before the Houthi s overran the area. In a statement posted online, the Houthi s threatened to “fight with all our means” the US and the UAE presence in southern Yemen. Pro-government forces backed by the Saudi-led coalition recaptured Al Anad and other southern areas from the Houthi s last year, but the rebels still control large parts of the country, including the capital Sanaa. The Pentagon announced it has carried out a string of strikes on Al Qaeda in recent weeks, outside of Mukalla. “We have conducted four counterterrorism strikes against AQAP since the 23 Apr 16 killing 10 Al Qaeda operatives and injuring another,” Davis said. As pro-government forces have battled the Houthi s, there has been no let-up in the US air war against AQAP, which Washington regards as the network’s most dangerous branch. A Mar 16 strike on an AQAP training camp west of Mukalla killed more than 70 fighters. The group, which has long been entrenched in Yemen, claimed responsibility for last year’s deadly attack in Paris on the staff of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, and has been linked to more than one attempt to blow up aircraft bound for the United States. The Yemen conflict has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced 2.8 million since March last year. 361 COMMENT: Recently the Iranians stated that they would close the Straits of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf/Gulf of Oman (4 May 16) and important shipping route. In Apr 15 the Iranian navy sailed to support the Houthis who were attempting to control the Bab al-Mandab Strait which is situated between Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula and Djibouti and Eritrea on the Horn of Africa. Another important shipping lane in the Gulf Region. The Iranian navy turned back once the American USS Theodore Roosevelt Carrier Strike Group (TRCSG) joined the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet intervened. With the Houthis being supported by Iran it is in the international community’s interest that that strait remains open as the Houthis would be Iranian puppets and control access and egress of the Strait. To have the Iranians, whether it is themselves or a supporting group, in charge of the strait it would not only be difficult for international shipping but also a future flash point which would end up in conflict. By acting now in a supporting role the Americans are ensuring that this does not happen. COMMENT ENDS
Yemen/Peace Process – Yemeni peace talks have been postponed indefinitely after representatives of the Houthi militias failed to attend a meeting on the 8 May 16 sources told Al Arabiya News Channel. This took place after the UN special envoy to Yemen held talks on the 8 May with the country’s warring parties in a bid to break an impasse, a day after the government pulled out of direct negotiations. Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed held separate morning talks in Kuwait City with delegates, and plenary or committees’ meetings were planned in the afternoon, spokesman for the UN envoy Charbel Raji said. Yemen’s government on the 7 May 16 pulled out of direct negotiations with the Houthis after there were no signs of any progress. A source close to the government delegation said the talks had reached a delicate stage after “the rebels backtracked to the starting point.” “That has complicated the situation” the source said. The Houthis and their allies have demanded the formation of a consensus transitional government before forging ahead with other issues that require them to surrender arms and withdraw from territories they occupied in 2014. They have also demanded the withdrawal of a small US force operating in the south of the country against Al-Qaeda militants. On the 5 May 16 Ould Cheikh Ahmed said the foes had begun discussing major political and security issues in face-to-face negotiations aimed at bringing an end to 13 months of devastating war. The working groups exchanged views on resolving political and security issues and the release of prisoners and detainees, in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 2216. This orders the rebels to withdraw from territory they have taken since 2014 and to surrender heavy weaponry they had seized. There has been mounting international pressure to end the Yemen conflict that the United Nations estimates has killed more than 6,400 people and displaced 2.8 million since Mar 15.
Yemen/Da’esh – SIS has claimed responsibility for a car bomb attack that killed ten soldiers in the Yemeni port city of Mukalla on the 12 May 16. The militant group said in an online statement that one of its members had blown himself up in a car near government troops. Medical sources said earlier that ten soldiers had been killed at a naval camp near the port of Khalaf in Mukalla when a car exploded. About 15 soldiers were injured, they said.