The Latest: UN: Task force to meet on aid to besieged areas

AP News
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Posted: Feb 17, 2016 7:39 PM
The Latest: UN: Task force to meet on aid to besieged areas

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Latest on the civil war in Syria (all times local):

2:38 a.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria says a task force seeking humanitarian access throughout the conflict-torn country will meet Thursday in Geneva to take stock of efforts to reach besieged areas.

Staffan de Mistura said in a statement that aid convoys to some besieged locations that started Wednesday are a test for the U.N.'s capability to deliver humanitarian assistance "and for all parties on the ground to allow this to take place."

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator in Syria, Yacoub el-Hillo, said convoys reached five besieged towns with "life-saving aid including food, medical supplies and equipment, vaccines, water and sanitation items for almost 100,000 people."

De Mistura said access to besieged areas is a first step to access throughout Syria demanded by U.N. Security Council resolutions and 17 key nations who met in Munich on Feb. 12.

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9:40 p.m.

The U.N. spokesman says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wants a cessation of hostilities in Syria as soon as possible, and the sending of aid convoys is "an incredibly important first step."

Stephane Dujarric said the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent are trying to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance Wednesday to over 100,000 people in Moadamiyeh, Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus, and Foua and Kfarya in northern Syria.

He told reporters in New York that the 17 key nations that agreed in Munich last Friday to a cessation of hostilities within a week need to pressure the combatants they have influence on to halt the fighting.

He says "we've had a lot of conferences, we've had a lot of speeches and commitments." He says the Syrian people "want to see hard evidence that these conferences serve a purpose."

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6:35 p.m.

Doctors Without Borders now says at least 25 people have been killed in an airstrike on one of the hospitals it supports in northern Syria.

Spokesman Tim Shenk said Wednesday that nine hospital staffers and 16 other people were killed, including a child. The dead included patients. At least 11 people, 10 of them staffers, were injured.

The previous death toll was 11.

Doctors Without Borders, also known by its French acronym MSF, has said the airstrike on the hospital in Idlib province appeared to be deliberate.

Syria's United Nations ambassador on Tuesday accused the Nobel Peace Prize-winning medical aid organization of being a branch of French intelligence.

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5:04 p.m.

Trucks loaded with relief items are starting to arrive to besieged suburbs of the Syrian capital after an hours-long delay.

An Associated Press team says 24 trucks carrying food, medicine and other assistance have almost reached the rebel-held town of Madaya, northwest of the capital while a 35-truck convoy is about to enter the rebel-held suburb of Moadamiyeh to the west.

Some 100 trucks left Damascus earlier on Wednesday as part of a U.N.-sponsored relief operation that was approved by the Syrian government.

A mobile clinic offered by the Syrian Red Crescent also entered Madaya to tend to wounded civilians.

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4:00 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has criticized the United States for not backing Turkey's proposals to establish a no-fly zone in Syria.

Erdogan said Wednesday a no-fly would have prevented Russia's air campaign in the region and thwarted thousands of civilian deaths.

"Oh America! You did not say 'yes' to 'no-fly zone.' Now the Russian planes are running wild over there, and thousands and tens of thousands of victims are dying," Erdogan said. "Weren't we coalition forces? Weren't we to act together?"

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3:50 p.m.

Trucks carrying humanitarian assistance destined for besieged areas near Damascus are still parked on a highway on the edge of the capital.

Over 100 trucks carrying food baskets, medicine and milk are expected according to an agreement between the Syrian government and the U.N. to begin entering five besieged areas on Wednesday, including rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital. Aid would simultaneously be delivered to communities in the north that are besieged by rebels.

By mid-afternoon, scores of trucks belonging to the Syrian Red Crescent were still parked on the side of the highway at the entrance to Damascus.

An aid official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give official statements, said the delay was due to "purely logistical" reasons.

— Zeina Karam in Beirut

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3:10 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renewing her proposal for a no-fly zone in Syria, saying it could be done by an agreement between Syrian President Bashar Assad, his backers and the coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

A German Foreign Ministry spokesman told reporters Wednesday that Merkel's suggestion came in the context of what was agreed upon in Munich, that a humanitarian corridor should be established to deliver aid to Syrian civilians, and hostilities should cease, hopefully in the next day or two.

Spokesman Martin Schaefer says "If both can be implemented, then that will be the basis to protect the people who are on the Turkish border, maybe 40,000 to 70,000, from attacks from the air and on the ground."

He gave no further details, however, on how such a no-fly zone would function.

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2:50 p.m.

Turkey's president responded angrily to calls for his country to halt its cross-border shelling of Kurdish positions in Syria, saying Ankara "has no such plans."

Addressing local officials Wednesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said Turkey would not allow the Syrian Kurdish forces to establish a stronghold at the Syrian-Turkish border.

Turkey regards the Syrian Kurdish forces as a terror group because of their links to its own outlawed Kurdish rebels who are internationally recognized as a terrorist organization.

Turkey has been shelling Kurdish Syrian forces since Saturday, saying it has been responding to provocations. The United States and others have called on Turkey to hold its fire. Erdogan insisted Wednesday that Turkey's shelling was "self-defense."

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2 p.m.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renewing her proposal for a no-fly zone in Syria, saying that it could be done by agreement between President Bashar Assad, his backers and the coalition fighting the Islamic State group.

Merkel said that such an agreement would be "a sign of goodwill" and would put many people at ease. She first aired her idea in an interview published Monday, without giving details.

At a news conference Wednesday, Merkel said it would be a good sign if "an agreement between Assad and his supporters and the anti-IS coalition" could produce a commitment to "set up a kind of no-fly zone in which there is no bombing, in which civilians are not pressured and killed" in the area between Aleppo and the Turkish border.

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1 p.m.

A senior Russian diplomat has shrugged off German Chancellor Angela Merkel's proposal to consider a no-fly zone over Syria, saying it can only be done with Damascus' consent.

Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency Wednesday that any no-fly zone would need to be approved by the Syrian government and endorsed by the U.N. Security Council.

Gatilov's statement comes as Russian warplanes continue to strike militant positions around Aleppo in support of a Syrian army offensive. Russia has said that it will continue to strike extremists in Syria despite a planned truce.

Merkel said in an interview published Monday that it would be "helpful" if there were areas where no side would carry out aerial bombardments — "a kind of no-fly zone."

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11:30 a.m.

Trucks destined for besieged areas in Syria are being loaded with humanitarian aid, part of an agreement between the Syrian government and the U.N.'s Syria envoy.

The Syrian foreign ministry hit back Wednesday against envoy Staffan de Mistura, who said the deliveries were a "test" of the Syrian government's commitment. A statement said "we do not wait for anyone to remind us of our duties toward our people."

Still, the convoys appeared to be preparing to head to besieged areas Wednesday.

The U.N. said the government of President Bashar Assad had approved access to seven besieged areas across the country and that convoys would head out in the coming days.

The U.N. estimates that 18 Syrian communities are besieged, affecting around half a million people.