The Early Edition: April 11, 2018

SYRIA

“Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and ‘smart!’” President Trump said in a message on Twitter this morning, making the comments following Saturday’s alleged chemical weapons attack on the town of Douma, in the Eastern Ghouta enclave. Daniel Nasaw reports at the Wall Street Journal, adding that U.S. and French warships have been positioned within firing range of Syria.

“If there is a strike by the Americans, then … the missiles will be downed and even the sources from which the missiles were fired,” the Russian ambassador to Lebanon, Alexander Zaspykin, told a Lebanese Hezbollah media unit yesterday. Reuters reports.

President Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Theresa May discussed the Douma attack and a response to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in phone calls yesterday, Macron told reporters at a joint conference with the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that a decision would be made in the coming days and Bin Salman said during the conference that Saudi Arabia would be “present” if “our alliance with our partners requires it.” Julian Borger and Patrick Wintour report at the Guardian.

The Trump administration has been considering a stronger response against Syria than last year’s limited strikes on the Al Shayrat airfield in an effort to deter Assad from further use of chemical weapons and to enhance U.S. credibility. Peter Baker, Helene Cooper and Thomas Gibbons-Neff report at the New York Times.

The international Eurocontrol air traffic agency has warned airlines crossing over the Eastern Mediterranean to be aware of the “possible launch of air strikes into Syria,” Al Jazeera reports.

The U.N. Security Council yesterday rejected rival Russian and U.S. draft resolutions to establish an independent investigation into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, the tense meeting saw the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley and her Russian counterpart Vassily Nebenzia trading barbed statements about responsibility for the alleged chemical weapons attack on Douma. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

Nebenzia warned the U.S. against any “illegal military adventure,” also accusing the U.S. of “planting” the resolution for an independent inquiry as a “pretext” to justify military action. The BBC reports.

“Russia has trashed the credibility of the council,” Haley said yesterday following Russia’s veto of the U.S. draft resolution. Zachary Cohen, Richard Roth and Elizabeth Joseph report at CNN.

A team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (O.P.C.W.) have accepted an invitation from the Assad regime to travel to Syria, it remains unclear whether their presence would defer any U.S military response. The O.P.C.W. is not mandated to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks by itself, Carol Morello reports at the Washington Post.

The World Health Organization (W.H.O.) has received reports from its partners that 500 people were affected by the chemical attack in Douma and has demanded “unhindered access” to verify the reports. The BBC reports.

More than 133,000 people have fled Eastern Ghouta, the U.N. Refugee Agency said yesterday. Tens of thousands of civilians still remain trapped in the enclave, Nick Cumming-Bruce reports at the New York Times.

The Russian military has been blocking or scrambling the G.P.S. signals received by U.S. drones operating in the skies over Syria, according to U.S. officials to the Russians began “jamming” some smaller U.S. drones several weeks ago. Courtney Kube reports at NBC News.

Trump yesterday canceled a summit meeting with Latin American nations and cited the Syria crisis as the reason for his decision, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports at the New York Times.

The U.S. tends to arrive at the same conclusion when incidents such as the Douma attack happen in Syria: limited strikes, this reveals the shallowness of U.S. foreign policy approach to Syria. Max Fisher writes at the New York Times, explaining that the U.S. response can be divided into three categories.

The Trump administration has been “boxed into a corner” when it comes to Syria, the president cannot “win” in Syria and any action he takes may, in fact, raise tensions and lead to an escalation. Ishaan Tharoor provides an analysis at the Washington Post.

Trump could send a stronger message to Assad by completely destroying Syria’s air force, Ewen MacAskill provides an analysis at the Guardian.

Assad has clearly not been deterred by limited, one-off strikes, in the circumstances, there is a danger that chemical warfare will become normalized. David Gardner writes at the Financial Times.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out nine airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between March 30 and April 5. [Central Command]

TRUMP-RUSSIA

The White House believes the president has the power to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, the White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, her comments coming after the F.B.I. raided the property of Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen following a referral by Mueller’s team. Andrew Restuccia and Nancy Cook report at POLITICO.

There been increasing speculation that Trump will fire Mueller and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – who is overseeing the Russia investigation – in light of recent developments, prompting Senate Democrats to set up a game plan should the president take such a decision. Asawin Suebsaeng, Justin Miller, Sam Stein report at The Daily Beast.

Trump is considering firing Rosenstein to rein in Mueller’s investigation, according to several sources familiar with the matter, with two sources saying that the raid on Cohen and Mueller’s referral may have been a tipping point. Pamela Brown, Gloria Borger, Evan Perez, Jeff Zeleny, Dana Bash and Dan Merica report at CNN.

White House lawyers Ty Cobb and Don McGahn have been urging Trump not to fire Mueller, according to two officials, who said that Trump has been infuriated by the F.B.I. raid. John Walcott, Jeff Mason and Steve Holland report at Reuters.

Key Senate Republicans have warned the president not to take rash action against Mueller and the Russia investigation as it could spark a constitutional crisis, however there have been several Trump allies who have encouraged him to fire officials at the Department of Justice. Alexander Bolton and Melanie Zanona report at the Hill.

Mueller’s office has interviewed the former acting Attorney General Dana Boente, who is now general counsel at the F.B.I., according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s team questioned Boente on a range of issues, including the president’s interactions with the former F.B.I. Director James Comey, indicating that Mueller has been looking into whether Trump obstructed justice, Matt Zapotosky reports at the Washington Post.

Trump attempted to shut down Mueller’s investigation in December, Maggie Haberman and Michael S. Schmidt reveal at the New York Times.

CYBERSECURITY, PRIVACY AND TECHNOLOGY

The Facebook founder and C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg testified before Congress yesterday and answered questions relating to privacy as lawmakers expressed discontent about the improper handling of user data – particularly by the political research firm Cambridge Analytica. Deepa Seetharaman and John D. McKinnon report at the Wall Street Journal.

Zuckerberg said that he welcomed some form of regulation, adding that it should be the “right regulation,” he also expressed regret that Facebook failed to detect and stop Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Kevin Rose and Cecilia Kang report at the New York Times.

“This is an arms race,” Zuckerberg said of Russian operatives seeking to take advantage of Facebook, also adding that special counsel Robert Mueller – who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election – had interviewed Facebook staff. The BBC reports.

Zuckerberg vowed to take stronger action to combat hate speech in Myanmar during his testimony, Andy Sullivan reports at Reuters.

The key moments from Zuckerberg’s testimony are set out by Quint Forgey and Aubree Eliza Weaver at POLITICO.

U.S. and U.K. lawyers have launched a joint lawsuit against Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, S.C.L. Group Limited and Global Science Research Limited (G.S.R.) for allegedly misusing user data. Owen Bowcott and Alex Hern report at the Guardian.

The Senate failed to properly hold Zuckerberg to account during yesterday’s hearings, Dylan Byers writes at CNN.

YEMEN

Yemen’s Houthi rebels said today that they had launched a drone strike on the Aramco oil giant in Saudi Arabia’s southern Jizan province, Reuters reports.

Saudi-led coalition spokesperson Col. Turki al-Malki said in a statement that the coalition does not aim to establish a permanent presence in Yemen, making the comments after a Yemeni official said that coalition forces would keep some military presence even if the civil war ends. Reuters reports.

A French lawyer representing a Yemeni human rights has filed a lawsuit in Paris against the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, claiming that Bin Salman knowingly targeted civilians during its campaign in the country. Philippe Sotto reports at the AP.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

Trump’s homeland security adviser Tom Bossert resigned yesterday at the request of the new national security adviser John Bolton, a source close to Bolton said that there may be further departures in the future. Steve Holland and Dustin Volz report at Reuters.

The Israeli military struck several Hamas targets today after finding an explosive device near the border with Gaza, the AP reports.

The presence of U.S. Special Operations troops in Africa will be reduced, U.S. commander Maj. Gen. Mark Hicks said yesterday, explaining that he intended to station the troops to work from command centers and battalion headquarters. Michael M. Phillips reports at the Wall Street Journal.

The Trump administration has decided to remove Chad from the list of countries included in the travel ban, Haley Britzky reports at Axios.

The Trump administration has been concerned that Qatar has been increasing its ties with Iran amid the ongoing diplomatic crisis between Qatar and other Gulf Arab nations. Ian Talley and Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.

China and Vanuata have held preliminary discussions about building a military base in the South Pacific, leading to concerns in Australia about Chinese presence close to the country. Jacqueline Williams reports at the New York Times.

North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly is scheduled to meet today, the parliamentary session is being watched more closely due to recent developments on the Korean Peninsula and ahead of scheduled summit meetings between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and between Kim and Trump. Eric Talmadge reports at the AP.

The Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir yesterday issued a decree to release all political prisoners held across the country, U.S. and European embassies had called for the release of all detainees. The AFP reports. 

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About the Author(s)

Pouneh Ahari

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK