“… Accused by a number of Western nations and their Middle Eastern allies of war crimes, Assad has managed to largely overcome a 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising with the support of Russia and Iran. * * * The United States, Israel, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey were among the countries to fund efforts to overthrow the Syrian leader. The rise of ultraconservative Sunni Muslim organizations such as the Islamic State … and a sweeping Syrian military comeback … have changed the dynamics ….Defense Secretary James Mattis [said] in August that the U.S. goal was to ‘move the Syria civil war into the Geneva process so the Syrian people can establish a new government … not led by Assad and give them a chance for a future that Assad has denied them, with overt Russian and Iranian support.’ A document submitted by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other top diplomats … stressed that their countries would not support Syrian reconstruction efforts ‘before the beginning of political process led by the United Nations to achieve a comprehensive, honest and true political transition that cannot be reversed,’ according to Saudi Arabia’s Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. …”
NEWSLINK: “Palm Sunday attacks: 44 dead, more than 100 injured in church bombings carried out by ISIL in Egypt” – Fox News
“… at least 44 people were killed and more than 100 more were injured in two Palm Sunday suicide attacks at Coptic Christian churches, each carried out by the ISIS terror group. Sunday’s first blast happened at St. George Church in the Nile Delta town of Tanta, where at least 27 people were killed and 78 others wounded, officials said.
Television footage showed the inside of the church, where a large number of people gathered around what appeared to be lifeless, bloody bodies covered with papers. A second explosion – which Egypt’s Interior Ministry says was caused by a suicide bomber who tried to storm St. Mark’s Cathedral in the coastal city of Alexandria — left at least 17 dead, and 48 injured. The attack came just after Pope Tawadros II — leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria — finished services, but aides told local media that he was unharmed. …”
NEWSLINK: “#IslamicState increases #oil and #gas sales to #Assad, officials say” – Wall Street Journal/Fox News
“#IslamicState has ramped up sales of #oil and #gas to the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-#Assad, U.S. and European officials said, providing vital fuel to the government in return for desperately needed cash. … helping sustain Islamic State amid unprecedented military pressure on the militant group in both #Syria and# Iraq. It is also helping the group despite the regime’s insistence that it is dedicated to eradicating the militant group with the help of its top allies Russia and Iran. … Oil and gas sales to Mr. Assad’s regime are now Islamic State’s largest source of funds, replacing revenue the group once collected from tolls on the transit of goods and taxes on wages ….”
“In March 2015, The Atlantic magazine ran a cover story titled ‘What ISIS Really Wants.’ The author was Graeme Wood, journalist, correspondent for The Atlantic, and lecturer at Yale University. His reporting and research on ISIS has now become a book, ‘The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State’ (Random House, 2016), which examines the origins, plans, and followers of ISIS. In this Bradley Lecture, Mr. Wood will discuss his firsthand encounters with ISIS’s true believers …”
… administration officials reportedly are at odds over a newly announced agreement with Russia to curb the violence in Syria … Confusion remains over the terms and aims of the deal. …. [there are] new questions about what level of violence will be accepted by the Obama administration in determining whether to go ahead with the proposed joint venture with Russia after a week-long ceasefire, which includes the sharing of intelligence at a joint intelligence center. … [After seven days of calm] the U.S. and Russia would then cooperate on how to jointly combat the Al Qaeda-linked group … Nusra Front … now known as Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. … militants backed by the U.S. and its Arab allies coordinate and even sometimes fight alongside Al Qaeda-linked militants. … The new cease-fire is supposed to end such ambiguities, and Washington has been urging rebel groups to break ranks with extremists.