The Early Edition: March 3, 2020

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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.

TURKEY-SYRIA

A Syrian government warplane was shot down over the rebel-held northwestern Idlib region today, with Syrian state media claiming Turkish forces targeted the plane. The downing of the plane comes amid escalating Syria-Turkey and Turkey-Russia tensions over Turkish support for the opposition in Syria’s civil war. Reuters reports.

Turkey has been deploying armed drones in recent days in support of opposition forces in Idlib; allowing rebels to take back some territory lost to the Syrian government. Mariya Petkova reports at Al Jazeera.

“We hope that we’re able to absolutely minimize this risk [of direct confrontation with Turkey] thanks to the close contact between the two countries’ militaries,” a spokesperson for Russia’s Kremlin said today ahead of talks this week between the Russian and Turkish Presidents about the situation in Syria. Reuters reports.

Russia has carried out war crimes in Syria’s Idlib region, according to a report by the U.N.’s Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, finding that in two incidents Russian aircraft launched indiscriminate attacks on civilian areas. Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels carried out war crimes in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria, the report by U.N. investigators said, also calling on Turkey to investigate whether it was responsible for October’s airstrike in northern Syria on a convoy of vehicles. Nick Cumming-Bruce reports at the New York Times.

Europe must deal with the new influx of Syrian refugees that have been displaced due to the Idlib offensive: it cannot wish away the problem or lay all the blame at Turkey for opening its borders, Ishaan Tharoor writes at the Washington Post.

CORONAVIRUS

“We are in uncharted territory,” the head of the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said yesterday of the coronavirus crisis, but also stating the infection “can also be contained with the right measures.” The AFP reports.

“The epidemic in the Republic of Korea, Italy and Iran and Japan are our greatest concern,” Ghebreyesus said yesterday, explaining that cases in China have been declining whilst there have been almost nine times more infections outside of China. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The W.H.O. has not yet declared the coronavirus outbreak to be a global pandemic, however more than 90,000 people have been infected and it has spread to every continent other than Antarctica. Joshua Berlinger reports at CNN.

Coronavirus has now killed six people in the U.S., with all of the fatalities recorded in Washington state. Jennifer Calfas, Jim Carlton and Lucy Craymer report at the Wall Street Journal.

The U.S. government is focusing on containing the virus and the Trump administration said yesterday that nearly one million tests could be dispensed by the end of the week. The New York Times reports in rolling coverage.

Live updates on the coronavirus outbreak are available at NBC News.

Fear among low-income workers that they would receive large medical bills if they get tested and would lose pay if they take time off sick could help to spread the coronavirus, Amy Goldstein explains at the Washington Post.

An Iranian lawmaker has said that 23 of his colleagues have been infected, making the claim as the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei put the country on a war footing against coronavirus. Amir Vahdat and Jon Gambrell report at the AP.

AFGHANISTAN

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper yesterday approved the initial withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan in accordance with an agreement signed by the U.S. and Taliban at the weekend. Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns report at the AP.

The Taliban yesterday announced an end to a partial truce, with spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid stating “the reduction in violence … has ended now and our operations will continue as normal. … As per the [U.S.-Taliban] agreement, our mujahideen will not attack foreign forces but our operations will continue against the Kabul administration forces.” Julian Borger reports at the Guardian.

The Taliban’s announcement came as a motorcycle bomb attack killed three and injured 11 in eastern Afghanistan. Zack Budryk reports at the Hill.

Taliban militants have been celebrating the U.S.-Taliban agreement as signifying America’s defeat in Afghanistan, whilst U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that the road ahead remains “rocky and bumpy.” Saphora Smith, Mushtaq Yusufzai, Dan De Luce and Ahmed Mengli report at NBC News.

Pompeo has told senior lawmakers that the administration will share “military implementation documents” relating to the U.S.-Taliban deal as soon as today, amid concerns over the obligationsin the agreement. John Bresnahan reports at POLITICO.

“To think that there’s going to be an absolute cessation of violence in Afghanistan, that is probably not going to happen,” the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark A. Milley said at the Pentagon yesterday. Missy Ryan, Susannah George and Haq Nawaz Khan report at the Washington Post.

The U.S. used different language in separate documents it agreed with the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to sources familiar with the matter, claiming that this has fueled a dispute over a requirement for prisoner swaps included in the U.S.-Taliban deal. Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed report at Reuters.

ISRAEL-PALESTINE

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory in the general election, which was called to break the political deadlock in the country. Exit polls suggest he will fall short of a majority, the BBC reports.

Live updates on the election are available at Haaretz.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday warned U.N. member states not to act against U.S. companies operating in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, condemning the U.N. for publishing a database of businesses working in occupied Palestinian territory. Laura Kelly reports at the Hill.

The KOREAN PENINSULA

A U.S. indictment unsealed yesterday accused two Chinese nationals of helping North Korean hackers launder $100m worth of cryptocurrency. Aruna Viswanatha, Ian Talley and Dustin Volz report at the Wall Street Journal.

North Korea is “suffering negatively” from coronavirus and sanctions should be eased, the Chinese ambassador to the U.N., Zhang Jun, said yesterday. Edith M. Lederer reports at the AP.

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS

The U.S. State Department yesterday announced that it would impose a cap on the number of Chinese nationals that can be employed at four Chinese media companies in the U.S., taking the step in retaliation for increasing restrictions against U.S. news outlets in Beijing. Courtney McBride and Rebecca Ballhaus report at the Wall Street Journal.

China’s foreign ministry today responded that it has the right to take measures against the U.S. decision to reduce the number of Chinese employees working at media outlets, Reuters reports.

TRUMP ADMINISTRATION

The White House yesterday withdrew its nomination of Pentagon official Elaine McCusker for the position of Pentagon comptroller after she clashed with the White House over the Trump administration’s decision in 2019 to withhold military aid to Ukraine. Gordon Lubold reports at the Wall Street Journal.

President Trump yesterday officially nominated Kenneth Braithwaite to serve as Navy secretary, John Bowden reports at the Hill.

OTHER DEVELOPMENTS

The U.N. Special Representative for Libya, Ghassan Salamé, yesterday resigned from his position, citing health issues and stress and wishing the country peace and stability. The U.N. News Centre reports.

The U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) plans to rebuke Iran for its lack of cooperation over the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and failing to provide access to sites of interest. Francois Murphy and John Irish report at Reuters.

President Trump will meet with Republican lawmakers today over a dispute about surveillance reform and proposed broader changes to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (F.I.S.A.) courts. Jordain Carney and Morgan Chalfant report at the Hill.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo intends to raise concerns this week with U.N Secretary-General António Guterres over the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Yemen as the Iran-aligned Houthi rebels seek greater control of the aid operations. Colum Lynch and Robbie Gramer report at Foreign Policy.

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday heard arguments on the immigration authorities’ campaign to rapidly deport asylum seekers without court review, Jess Bravin explains at the Wall Street Journal. 

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