An Israeli strike in Syria. According to Syria’s state news agency SANA, Israeli warplanes fired a number of missiles at a warehouse on the grounds of the Damascus airport. A Syrian official said most of the missiles were shot down. Other sources, however, reported that the strikes targeted a much wider area: Hezbollah’s Al-Manar TV said the strikes also targeted areas in eastern, southern and western Damascus, while the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said they targeted areas near the airport and Kiswah, south of Damascus. Hezbollah has reportedly used warehouses at or near the Damascus airport to build precision-guided weapons. It was the first Israeli airstrike on Syria since Dec. 25. Last year, Russia delivered S-300 air defense systems to Syria, but it seems they haven’t been used to prevent air attacks so far, though it’s unclear whether they are even operational yet.
A struggling bank looks for a way out. Italy’s troubled Monte dei Paschi di Siena bank may issue a junior bond next week to try yet again to raise more capital. The bank had originally planned to do so last year but was effectively blocked from bond markets when the Five Star and League parties took office. On Friday, the European Central Bank warned Monte dei Paschi di Siena that its capital position is below the target of the restructuring plan reached in 2017. If the bank is unable to raise more funds, it might be a sign of more problems to come between Italy and Brussels in 2019.
U.S. sanctions on Russia. The ambassadors to the U.S. from the U.K., France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Sweden and the EU signed a letter supporting U.S. plans to lift sanctions on two companies linked to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, who has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Democrats fear the move to ease sanctions could signal that the Trump administration is becoming more lenient on Moscow. The letter, addressed to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, said that lifting the sanctions would help protect 75,000 workers in Europe’s aluminum industry. It follows a deal Deripaska made in December with the U.S. Treasury to ease sanctions in exchange for reducing his stake in Rusal, En+ and EuroSibEnergo to below 50 percent.
Turkish moves in Syria. According to Turkish news agency Anadolou, Turkey has sent several commando units and armored vehicles to Hatay province on the border with Syria’s Idlib province, the site of intensifying fighting between Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and Turkish-backed proxies, which are trying to limit HTS’ territorial gains there. Turkey could be preparing to intervene in Idlib more directly – rather than relying primarily on its proxies – to contain HTS, but that would risk violating a deal it made with Russia in September. Ankara wants to use its influence through its proxies in Idlib as a bargaining chip in ongoing negotiations with Russia over the future of Syria. An anonymous Turkish official said that the movement was related to force rotation and would not comment on whether Turkey was preparing for an operation in Idlib.
- Czech intelligence has warned against using Huawei and ZTE equipment in telecommunications infrastructure.
- Macedonia’s parliament has agreed to change of the country’s name to the Republic of North Macedonia.
- Saudi Arabia plans to distribute heating fuel and cooking gas cylinders to displaced people in Syria, as Arab states gradually resume relations with Damascus.
- A Ukrainian military colonel has said that Ukraine’s military is unable to protect its own territory and that it could only defend itself against Russia with words. Turkey, meanwhile, signed an agreement with Ukraine to provide it with Bayraktar TB2 strike drones that can carry out strikes with precision-guided missiles.
- Massoud Barzani, head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, has been placed on a Syrian list of people responsible for financing terrorism.
- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said that the Philippines would stop purchasing military equipment from the United States, a move that seems unlikely but would give China a major boost in Southeast Asia.