Morning Brief

Tensions Escalate Between Turkey and Syria

Thousands of Turkish reinforcements are arriving in northwest Syria as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warns of a possible military operation.

Children play in front of their tent at the Haranabush camp on Feb. 19 in Idlib, Syria.
Children play in front of their tent at the Haranabush camp on Feb. 19 in Idlib, Syria. Burak Kara/Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Turkey is sending reinforcements to northwestern Syria as the Syrian government’s offensive pushes on, a gunman with far-right sympathies kills nine in Germany, and two passengers from the quarantined cruise ship in Japan have died of the coronavirus.

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Turkey Warns of Direct Engagement With Syria

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned on Wednesday that it could be “a matter of time” before Turkey launched a military operation to push back the Syrian government offensive against rebel groups in northwestern Syria, as talks with Russia failed to resolve the crisis. Turkey has already sent additional troops to Idlib province, increasing the risk of a direct confrontation. The Syrian forces are backed by Russian air support.

There are now around 15,000 Turkish troops in northwest Syria, Reuters reports, with more convoys just over the border inside Turkey. Erdogan said Ankara intends to secure Idlib even as it continues meeting with Moscow. “We are entering the last days for the regime to stop its hostility in Idlib. We are making our final warnings,” he said. It’s yet not clear when Russia and Turkey will resume talks.

Consolidating control. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government is solidifying its grip over the country’s last rebel strongholds, particularly after taking back Aleppo province and the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus. (Flights between the cities—Syria’s two largest—resumed on Wednesday.) The ongoing Turkish intervention could still slow the government campaign but it’s unlikely to stop it, as Kareem Shaheen argues in FP.

Growing crisis. Almost 1 million people, mostly women and children, have been displaced by the government offensive in Idlib, with airstrikes hitting hospitals and refugee camps. Now, many are stranded on the road—unable to cross the closed Turkish border. The displacement is overwhelming aid agencies and alarming Turkey, which says it cannot handle more refugees.

What We’re Following Today

Far-right terrorist attack near Frankfurt. At least nine people have been killed in two shootings in Hanau, Germany—near Frankfurt. The gunman fled the first scene in a car, with German special forces giving chase and a police helicopter searching over the city. Local media reported that the attacker had opened fire near two hookah bars frequented by the city’s Kurdish population. The attacker was later found dead alongside another corpse believed to be his mother.

Federal police have taken over the investigation and prosecutors see “indications of an anti-foreigner motivation” based on a letter and video containing a variety of conspiracy theories.  The suspected shooter, a 43-year-old German man, published a confession, and also made a video in which he warned Americans of underground military installations where children are being abused and killed. In the one-hour video, the attacker also claimed that Germany is run by secret intelligence agencies with wide-ranging powers and speaks negatively about migrants from Arab countries and Turkey.

Mexican police to issue high-profile arrest warrants. Mexican authorities are soon expected to issue arrest warrants for two people wanted for the murder of a 7-year-old girl, Fátima Cecilia Aldrighett, in Mexico City last week. Investigators identified the suspects as a man and woman. The female suspect was last seen with Aldrighett as she left school on Feb. 11; the girl’s body was found over the weekend. The crime is one of two murders—the other of Ingrid Escamilla, 25—that have prompted widespread outrage and protest over femicide in Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has been criticized for his slow response to the issue.

Two coronavirus deaths from cruise ship. Two older passengers from the quarantined cruise ship docked off the coast of Japan have died from the coronavirus. The news came as Japan’s government faced criticism for its response to the outbreak on the cruise ship, with one Japanese health expert describing the quarantine as “completely chaotic.” There have been at least 620 cases on board the Diamond Princess—the largest group of cases outside China. Today another 600 passengers were expected to disembark, after hundreds were allowed to return to their home countries for quarantine on Wednesday.

Keep an Eye On

The U.S. Democratic field. As the field narrows, the Democratic candidates shared more combative exchanges than in previous debates on the stage in Las Vegas on Wednesday. In his first appearance in a debate, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg came under attack over his record on stop-and-frisk policing and allegations of disrespectful behavior toward women.

Bloomberg’s past comments about the leaders of China and Russia could also be a weak spot as the campaign continues, FP’s Michael Hirsh writes.

Argentina’s economy. After reviewing Argentina’s debt load, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has declared it unsustainable—a signal that it will likely approve the government’s plans to have creditors lose out when the debt is renegotiated. Since taking office in December, President Alberto Fernández is seeking to renegotiate billions of dollars of debt with creditors, including a $56 billion loan through the IMF.

Downed jet investigation. Iran still won’t hand over the black box from the Ukrainian passenger jet that its military mistakenly shot down last month. It has so far refused to transfer the flight data recorder to another country. On Wednesday, officials said it is damaged—further complicating the investigation. Ukraine says it is still negotiating with Iran over the issue.

Indonesia’s virus screening. Indonesia hasn’t yet confirmed a case of the coronavirus, despite being a popular destination for Chinese tourists. That could be good luck—or because cases just aren’t being diagnosed. Though health officials deny that Indonesia’s detection system is weak, there are doubts that Indonesia is using effective tests, Febriana Firdaus writes in FP.

Odds and Ends

Croatia’s attorney general, Drazen Jelenic, has resigned after local media revealed that he was a Freemason—a member of the global, male-only secret society. Jelenic, who became attorney general in 2018, stepped down under pressure from top officials, including Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. “There is nothing illegal here,” Plenkovic said. “However, this created an unusual circumstance which makes his position difficult.”

That’s it for today.

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Audrey Wilson is an associate editor at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @audreybwilson

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