The Early Edition: October 29, 2018

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Before the start of business, Just Security provides a curated summary of up-to-the-minute developments at home and abroad. Here’s today’s news.

JAMAL KHASHOGGI KILLING

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Saturday that the individuals suspected of murdering Washington Post columnist and Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi would be prosecuted in Saudi Arabia. Jubeir’s comments came a day after Turkey claimed it intends to extradite 18 Saudi nationals who Turkish authorities allege were involved in the killing, the BBC reports.

The kingdom’s chief prosecutor Sheikh Saud al-Mojeb today landed at Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport. Mojeb’s schedule includes a meeting with Istanbul chief prosecutor Irfan Fidan and a visit to the Saudi consulate where Khashoggi was killed, AFP reports.

Fidan is set to present Mojeb with a 150-page dossier and will request another joint search at the residence of the kingdom’s consul-general in Istanbul, according to a Turkish source. The dossier that will be presented to al-Mojeb will reportedly include interviews with 45 consulate employees, and apparently identifies four people as the prime suspects of Khashoggi’s killing, three of whom are named as Saudi Consul-General Mohammed al-Otaibi, forensics expert Saleh al-Tubaiqi and Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, Al Jazeera reports.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan shared details of Khashoggi’s case in bilateral talks during a four-way summit with Russian, French and German leaders, Erdoğan claimed Saturday. Erdoğan added that Saudi Arabia must say who sent the 18 suspected individuals to Turkey, and that Turkey values the conclusion of discussions between Turkish and Saudi prosecutors, Reuters reports.

The U.S. is committed to “holding accountable” those responsible for Khashoggi’s killing, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Saturday. Mattis, speaking to an international security conference in the Bahraini capital of Manama, claimed that Khashoggi’s death “undermines regional stability,” and added that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has revoked the visas of Saudis suspected in the killing, Eric Schmitt reports at the New York Times.

Mattis claimed yesterday that he had met with Jubeir and that the Saudi official had agreed that a complete investigation into Khashoggi’s killing is necessary. “We discussed it … you know the same thing we talked about, the need for transparency, full and complete investigation,” Mattis told a group of reporters traveling with him, adding that “[there was] full agreement from foreign minister al-Jubeir, no reservations at all, he said we need to know what happened and it was very collaborative, in agreement,” Megan Keller reports at the Hill.

SYRIA

A group of world leaders Saturday stressed the importance of a lasting ceasefire in Syria. The leaders of Russia, Germany, France and Turkey gathered at a summit in Istanbul to discuss the war-torn nation following a week of violence that highlighted the fragility of the Russia-Turkey brokered deal to prevent a government offensive in the northwester rebel-held province of Idlib, Reuters reports.

“We are counting on the Turkish side to ensure completion in the near future of the withdrawal of opposition from the demilitarized zone,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the summit, adding that “if radical elements come across this goal, carrying armed provocations in the Idlib area, Russia reserves the right to provide effective support to decisive actions by the Syrian government to eliminate this hotbed of terrorist threat.” Sune Engel Rasmussen reports at the Wall Street Journal, noting that “Russia used [the summit] to cement its new role as a Middle East power broker and attract European funding for rebuilding Syria after its war ends.”

Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke by phone ahead of Saturday’s four-way summit, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency, Reuters reports

Islamic State group militants Friday killed at least 40 U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (S.D.F.) fighters, also capturing several alive and regaining areas they lost earlier this month in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border. The militants took advantage of a sandstorm to launch a counteroffensive in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour; U.S. spokesperson Colonel Sean Ryan claimed that there is not yet confirmation of exact figures “as both sides are taking casualties,” the AP reports.

The Turkish army yesterday shelled positions held by the U.S.-backed Kurdish Y.P.G. fighters in northeastern Syria, in a move marking a heightening of tension along the borders. Ankara considers the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia an extension of its own insurgent groups, which it labels as “terrorists and separatists,” Zeynep Bilginsoy reports at the AP.

Israel has reportedly been running an aggressive military campaign across Syria against Iran-backed militia groups, in an effort that has been backed by the White House but has caused concern amongst several U.S. military officials, who fear that the strategy could backfire if Iran’s belief that the U.S. is behind many of the strikes prompts retaliatory attacks on American troops in Syria or Iraq. Gordon Lubold and Felicia Schwartz report at the Wall Street Journal.

U.S.-led airstrikes continue. U.S. and coalition forces carried out 70 airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq between Oct. 14 and Oct. 20. [Central Command]

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Three Palestinian boys aged between 13 and 14 were killed in an Israeli air strike in the southeastern Gaza Strip near the border fence, according to health officials. The Israeli military (I.D.F.) said in a statement that its aircraft fired upon three Palestinians who approached the fence and “were apparently involved in placing an improvised explosive device (I.E.D.) adjacent [to the fence];” Palestinian news agency Wafa claimed that the I.D.F. continued the attack on ambulances attempting to reach the bodies, stating the army “reportedly opened fire toward the ambulances and prevented their access,” Al Jazeera reports.

The Israeli border with Gaza fell silent Saturday under what Palestinians described as an Egyptian-mediated truce, following Israel’s launching of 80 air strikes in response to Palestinian rocket attacks on Friday that marked the largest salvo in months, Reuters reports.

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu’s trip to Oman over the weekend “marked a new chapter in his effort to strengthen ties with Gulf Arab nations and shift the conversation from Palestinian issues toward regional threats like Iran,” Felicia Schwartz explains at the Wall Street Journal. Omani Foreign Minister Yousef bin Alawi had said Saturday that “Israel is a state that is present in this region and we all understand this … perhaps the time has come for Israel to be treated in the same way as other countries.”

AFGHANISTAN

A suicide bombing aimed at the Afghan election commission’s office in Kabul today killed a police officer and wounded five people, according to Afghan police. Islamic State group have claimed responsibility for the attack, in the latest violent episode overshadowing the country’s parliamentary election process. Amir Shah reports at the AP.

At least five people were killed and 15 more wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives outside a police compound in central Afghan province of Wardak Saturday, according to a police spokesperson. Reuters reports.

The transformation of Camp Dwyer in Helmand Province “reflects the shifting strategy for troops fighting in Afghanistan,” Thomas Gibbons-Neff explains in an essay at the New York Times.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

Top U.S. envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun today expressed confidence about achieving denuclearization in the North, during meetings with his South Korean counterpart in Seoul. Amidst growing anxiety regarding the pace of nuclear negotiations, Biegun said that “the primary requirement for us to get to that endpoint is to achieve the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea … I am absolutely confident that this is within the reach … and I think our two presidents are singularly focused on this goal,” Hyung-Jin Kim reports at the AP.

An analysis of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s stance toward North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is provided by Choe Sang-Hun at the New York Times.

EXPLOSIVES SENT TO DEMOCRATIC POLITICAL LEADERS

Florida resident Ceesar Sayoc (56) has been arrested in connection with the mail-bombing campaign aimed at critics of President Trump. Sayoc faces five charges including mailing explosives and threatening ex-presidents, after fourteen items were found to have been sent to figures including ex-President Barack Obama and Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the BBC reports.

Sayoc’s attorney Jamie Benjamin has warned against jumping to conclusions regarding his client’s involvement in the mail-bombing campaign, stating “nobody should rush to judgment here … they don’t have one photo, they don’t have one video tape…they found one fingerprint on a component of one of the packages.” Tarpley Hitt and Atena Sherry report at The Daily Beast.

IMMIGRATION

The U.S. military has begun delivering jersey barriers to the southern border in a move that will also see the deployment of active troops there, according to U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, making the announcement yesterday as a caravan of Central American individuals heads across Mexico toward the U.S. The additional troops will provide logistical and other support to the Border Patrol, and will bolster the efforts of the approximately 2,000 National Guard forces already there; Mattis told reporters that details of the deployment are still being finalized, Lolita C. Baldor report at the AP.

A Honduran migrant died after clashes with Mexican and Guatemalan security forces yesterday – the latest incident in the escalating migration crisis.  Santiago Pérez and José de Córdoba report at the Wall Street Journal.

NUCLEAR ARMS CONTROL

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said yesterday that the U.S. is in consultation with its European allies on the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (I.N.F.) Treaty, after President Trump announced on Oct. 20 that he plans to withdraw the U.S. from the accord. N.A.T.O. members are urging Washington to attempt to bring Russia back into compliance with the pact rather than walk from it, Reuters reports.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov claimed yesterday that Moscow has started preparing answers to the questions related to the I.N.F. delivered by U.S. officials, according to R.I.A. news agency. Reuters reports.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

An ambush at a synagogue in Pittsburgh Saturday morning killed 11 people and injured six, in an attack described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history. Robert Bowers (46) is accused of storming the Tree of Life synagogue with a semiautomatic assault-style AR-15 rifle and three handguns and shooting worshipers during Shabbat services, Joseph De Avila and Sadie Gurman report at the Wall Street Journal.

Far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro has been elected as President of Brazil, sparking anxieties amongst rights groups who fear a rollback of civil liberties in the South American country. Sarah Dilorenzo, Peter Prengaman and Mauricio Savarese report at the AP.

A report on U.S. attempts to counter Russian cyber-aggression is provided at NPR.

An in-depth look at the alleged “health attacks” on U.S. diplomats in Cuba and China – and their aftermath – is provided by Josh Lederman at NBC. 

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About the Author(s)

Robbie Stern

Assistant News Editor at Just Security and Legal Researcher at JUSTICE, a law reform and human rights organization based in the UK - Follow him on Twitter (@robbieguystern).