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December 7, 2016

Daily News Brief

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Syrian Army Takes Aleppo's Old City From Rebels

Forces backing the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad took Aleppo's old city from rebel forces early Wednesday. The government and its allies now control three-fourths (WaPo) of eastern Aleppo, which had been a stronghold for opposition forces since 2012. Assad's forces have pressed a three-week operation (AFP) to retake the city, which was Syria's largest before the war. Rebel factions proposed a five-day cease-fire (AP) that made no mention of withdrawing from the city, saying that the “fate of the city” would be discussed after humanitarian concerns are addressed. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said he will speak about Syria with his Russian counterpart this week, adding that Russia (WSJ) has told him that Assad is "willing to come to the table."


"With the latest gains, the endgame for Aleppo, which has been carved up between the government and the rebel side for the past four years, appears to draw even closer. If Aleppo—the country's former commercial hub—is captured by government troops, it would be a turning point in the conflict, putting the four largest cities in Syria and the coastal region back under state control," Sarah El Deeb write for the Associated Press.

"The recapture of Aleppo would mark Assad’s greatest victory in Syria’s five-and-a-half year civil war. Even while morale in the east has been shredded by intense air strikes and a crippling government siege, many civilians still say they fear for the future that awaits them with a government victory. Inside what remains of the rebel enclave, there is a growing humanitarian crisis. Amid the blistering bombardment, thousands of residents displaced by the offensive now shelter inside abandoned apartment blocks. Food has almost run out and fuel stocks are so low that rescue workers say they are unable to reach many of the grievously wounded," Louisa Loveluck writes for the Washington Post.

"Israel used the transition between George Bush and Barack Obama to launch Operation Cast Lead on Gaza which stopped two days before Obama’s inauguration on 20 January 2009. Russia is now using the transition from Obama to Trump to do the same in Aleppo. Both sides in the Syrian civil war understand the significance of timing. The rebels foolishly depended on Hillary Clinton’s assurances to hang on until she came into power. They had no plan B for a Clinton defeat. Conversely, the Russians understand that they have to finish off east Aleppo by the time Donald Trump is inaugurated. With the Old City fallen, the task is almost complete," David Hearst writes for Middle East Eye.


Quake in Indonesia's Aceh Kills Scores

A 6.5-magnitude earthquake killed at least ninety-seven people and wounded six hundred early Wednesday in the Aceh province (Al Jazeera) of Indonesia's Sumatra island. A 2004 earthquake (WaPo) and tsunami in Aceh killed more than one hundred thousand people.

TAIWAN: Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole, working as a lobbyist for Washington firm Alston & Bird, arranged meetings that led to last week's phone call (NYT) between U.S. President-Elect Donald J. Trump and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Dole's firm received $140,000 for its efforts on behalf of Taiwan.


Poll: National Mood in Afghanistan at Historic Low

Only 29.3 percent of more than twelve thousand Afghans polled said they believed their country was going in the right direction (RFE/RL), according to the U.S.-based Asia Foundation's annual survey. The number marks the lowest percentage since polling began in 2004. More than 60 percent of those polled said they were confident in their religious leaders and the media.

Christopher D. Kolenda discusses corruption, government unity, and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan in this CFR interview.

INDIA: Thousands in Chennai mourned (Guardian) the death of former actress and state chief minister Jayalalithaa Jayaram, who is credited with attracting the automaking industry (Live Mint) to the city in the 1990s.


Libyan Militias Claim Sirte Freed From Islamic State

Libyan troops claim they ousted (NYT) the self-proclaimed Islamic State from the coastal city of Sirte following a six-month assault on the city, which was supported by American air strikes. With the defeat, the Islamic State is believed to no longer control (Al Jazeera) any Libyan towns.

CFR's Global Conflict Tracker examines the warring parties in Libya. 


Ghanaians Vote in Tight Election

President John Mahama, running for a second term (Reuters), faces opposition leader Nana Akufo Addo in a tight presidential race in Ghana (BBC). Results are expected within three days.

GAMBIA: The head of a coalition responsible for transitioning power to incoming President Adama Barrow, who defeated longtime ruler Yahya Jammeh in last week’s election, warned that Jammeh may be planning to escape the country to start a rebel movement (Guardian).


Merkel Calls for Ban on Face-Covering Garments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term in office, said in a speech to her center-right Christian Democratic Union that full-facial coverings worn by some Muslim women should be banned (DW) in Germany. The number of women wearing such garments in the country may be as low as a few hundred (WaPo).

Thorsten Benner argues that Germany will have difficulty stemming populist tides as Berlin manages the political fallout from the refugee crisis in Foreign Affairs.

UK: Prime Minister Theresa May told leaders at a summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Bahrain that the United Kingdom would invest more than £3 billion in defense (Reuters) in the region for Gulf nations to resist "Iran's aggressive regional actions." May told the leaders she was encouraged by recent social and economic reforms (Guardian).


Brazil Senate Leader Refuses to Follow Court Order

Senate President Renan Calheiros refused to follow (WSJ) a supreme court ruling ordering him to leave his post after he was indicted on embezzlement charges. Calheiros called the decision, issued by a single judge, "monocratic."

VENEZUELA: The Venezuelan government and opposition leadership held separate meetings (LAHT) on Tuesday with mediators from the Vatican. A dialogue (LAHT) between the parties is expected to continue in mid-January.