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NightWatch 20150224

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For the night of 24 February 2015

Syria: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) militants overran Christian villages and kidnapped scores of civilians in Tel Temir and nearby villages, west of Hasakah. Various witnesses and press services reported that ISIL kidnapped some 150 Assyrian Christians, mostly women and children. Some captives reportedly were members of the Syrian Kurdish and Assyrian Christian local militias.

Some analysts said the attack was a diversion to weaken Kurdish military pressure in Hasakah Governate. Other analysts said the attacks were in retaliation for Kurdish military advances in other parts of the Governate. A third view is that ISIL in Syria does not want to be outdone in brutality by the Libyan province of the Islamic State, which beheaded 21 Egyptian Christians.

Comment: Open sources contain little information about ISIL's command and control capabilities. However, the location of today's attacks effectively disrupts Kurdish force movements and resupply from Kobani to Hasakah, at least for a time. The action seems to be a diversion as well as retaliation for ISIL losses in other areas.

Various ISIL affiliated groups appear to be trying to outdo each other in savagery. More beheadings are likely. 

Ukraine: The rebels announced they have withdrawn five battalions, including more than 100 guns, from the front line in the past 24-hours.

The Ukrainian government said it will not withdraw heavy weapons because of continuing exchanges of rebel gunfire. It also denied that the rebels had withdrawn weapons. However, BBC reportage showed rebel guns in movement away from the front lines.

Comment: The fighting is in a lull, but it is not ended. Credible sources indicate the rebels continue fighting to widen the buffer zone between Ukrainian territory and the rebel zone. In other areas, however, the rebels are complying with the ceasefire agreement.

The ultimate destination of the rebel artillery in movement is not known, that is, whether they move to storage or to another combat zone. The eastern rebel leaders have said their objective is to capture all of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. Clashes also continue in the south, opposite Mariupol.

Yemen: The Houthi leadership said on Tuesday that President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi had lost his legitimacy as head of state and was being sought as a fugitive from justice.

In Sana'a the Houthis are continuing to put together some kind of government, constitution and transition timetable.

Meanwhile, sources close to the president told the press that he is considering declaring Aden to be Yemen's interim capital until Sanaa is taken back from the Houthis. Loyalist army units and tribesmen from Hadi's neighboring province of Abyan now run the city and much of the south.

Comment: Local sources have reported that two important Sunni tribes in south Yemen announced their support for President Hadi. Hadi apparently has established an alternative power center in the south. That is the definition of fragmentation. One analyst described it as"Libya-ization."

The latest evidence indicates the Houthis have now resorted to polarization of the polity, embodied in declarations that Hadi is a fugitive from justice and that any of his ministers who refuse to cooperate with the Houthis are guilty of treason. That kind of all-or-nothing approach to opponents works when people have no escape options. In Yemen, they can go south, if they can escape. Yemen is following a script that leads to national fragmentation and possibly to clashes between the Houthis and southern tribal militias.

No fighting has occurred and fighting is not inevitable. Yemeni tribes have a strong tradition of conflict resolution as well as of civil war. For now two regimes will be operating in tandem or competing in Yemen.

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End of NightWatch for 24 February.

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