The Latest: WFP food airdrop faced difficulties

AP News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2016 5:36 PM
The Latest: WFP food airdrop faced difficulties

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria and the provisional cease-fire proposed by the U.S. and Russia (all times local):

0:33 a.m.

The World Food Program says its first high-altitude airdrop over the Syrian city of Deir el-Zour, which is under siege from the radical Islamic State group, may have been off-target.

WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said in an email late Wednesday that 21 metric tons of "assistance" were dropped, but that the overall operation had faced "technical difficulties."

It was not immediately clear if that meant that the airdrop had missed its target, but Luescher said: "High altitude drops are extremely challenging to carry out and take more than one trial to develop full accuracy."

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8:10 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have held a telephone conversation to discuss issues connected with the proposed upcoming cease-fire in Syria.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on Wednesday said the two top diplomats "continued discussion of the modalities of this process, demanding close coordination of efforts between our countries, including in the military sphere."

The statement says the two stressed the importance of "renewing the intra-Syrian talks about" the situation in the war-ravaged country and ways to resolve five years of violence that has killed more than 250,000 people and displaced another 11 million from their homes.

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7:45 p.m.

Russia's deputy foreign minister says the United States and Russia are discussing a new U.N. resolution that would strongly back the cessation of hostilities in Syria.

The truce, proposed by Russia and U.S. is to go into effect at midnight local time on Friday.

Gennady Gatilov told reporters on Wednesday that "it would be good" if Moscow and Washington agreed on the text of the Russian-proposed resolution by Thursday. That would enable the U.N. Security Council to vote on the resolution on Friday.

U.S. officials point out that a cessation of hostilities is already enshrined in a U.N. resolution adopted unanimously in December and endorsing a peace process for Syria. However, they say they are not necessarily opposed to another one.

A new resolution would also reportedly ask the 18 key nations on both sides of the five-year-old Syrian conflict that agreed on the peace process to support implementation of the new cessation of hostilities.

—Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations.

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6.40 p.m.

Syria's U.N. ambassador says his government is working with close ally Russia to identify the groups and areas to be covered by the cessation of hostilities that is scheduled to take effect at midnight local time on Friday.

Bashar Ja'afari told the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday it is very important to "control the boundaries," especially the Syria-Turkish border.

Ja'afari, who is the chief Syrian government negotiator at peace talks, said this is essential to halt support by some countries for "terrorist organizations" that are escalating the conflict and undermining a political solution.

Syria's government considers all armed opposition groups as "terrorists." The proposed truce will not include the Islamic State group or the Nusra Front, but the 18 nations that have agreed on a roadmap to peace in Syria have not yet agreed on a list of other "terrorist organizations" that will also continue to be targeted.

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6.30 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have held a telephone conversation to discuss issues connected with the proposed Syrian cease-fire.

A Russian Foreign Ministry statement on Wednesday said the two top diplomats "continued discussion of the modalities of this process, demanding close coordination of efforts between our countries, including in the military sphere. The task of renewing the intra-Syrian talks about political regulation of the situation was considered, as well as questions of joint work in the framework of the International Syria Support Group and the UN Security Council."

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6: 10 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian chief says a World Food Program plane has dropped the first cargo of desperately needed aid to the Syrian city of Deir el-Zour which is surrounded by the extremist Islamic State group.

Stephen O'Brien told the U.N. Security Council that 21 tons of aid were dropped early on Wednesday. He says initial reports from Syrian Arab Red Crescent teams on the ground say the pallets landed in the target area.

O'Brien says the U.N. and its partners have reached 110,000 people in besieged areas and have approval to reach a further 230,000 people, including through air drops in Deir el-Zour.

But he says the U.N. is still waiting for approval to reach 170,000 additional people in besieged areas and "we expect those approvals to happen immediately."

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5:30 p.m.

The Russian military says its coordination center in Syria has helped negotiate the cessation of hostilities in some areas as part of efforts to implement a U.S.-Russia cease-fire deal.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, Maj.-Gen. Igor Konashenkov, said Wednesday that the center, located at Syria's Hemeimeem air base hosting Russian warplanes, has received several requests for assistance from various opposition groups.

Konashenkov says cease-fire declarations already have been signed by the government and opposition representatives in several areas in the provinces of Homs and Latakia.

As part of a U.S.-Russian agreement on a cease-fire set to take effect Saturday, Russia has agreed to halt its air campaign against groups that respect the truce. The cease-fire will not cover the Islamic State group, al-Qaida's Syria branch known as the Nusra Front and other militant groups.

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4:20 p.m.

Syria's government has blasted U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for comments made a day earlier during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry says Kerry's remarks "run counter to reality" and attempt to "conceal his country's responsibility for the terrorist crimes that Syria has been subjected to."

The ministry statement was carried by the official SANA news agency on Wednesday. Kerry on Tuesday said that the war cannot stop in Syria as long as President Bashar Assad was in power.

Kerry also said he would not vouch for the success of the cease-fire agreement but that it is the best pathway for ending five years of violence in Syria.

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4:00 p.m.

Turkey's president says his country supports the cease-fire agreement for Syria "in principle" but has serious concerns that the proposed truce will strengthen Syrian President Bashar Assad and lead to "new tragedies."

Addressing dozens of local administrators in Ankara on Wednesday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia group — which Turkey regards as a terror organization — should be kept outside of the scope of the agreement.

The agreement, drawn up by the U.S. and Russia, is set to come into effect later this week.

It does not cover the Islamic State group, Syria's al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front, or any other militia designated as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council.

Erdogan says that Turkey supports a "cease-fire that will allow our Syrian brothers to breathe." But he added that "this cease-fire agreement provides clear support to the Assad regime."

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2:40 p.m.

Syria's state-run news agency SANA says 18 people have been killed in shelling by insurgents of government-held neighborhoods of Aleppo in the past 24 hours.

It says eight people died on Wednesday when shells fired by Saudi and Turkey-backed "terrorists" struck the Jamilieh district in Aleppo city. President Bashar Assad's government uses the term "terrorists" to refer to all rebels, militants and armed opposition against Damascus.

SANA says most of the casualties were pensioners as the shells slammed near the post building were they come to pick up their pension.

The agency also reported that on Tuesday night, 10 people were killed in shells that hit the Zahraa and Sheikh Maksoud residential areas of Aleppo.

The shelling comes days before a "temporary cessation of hostilities" engineered by the U.S. and Russia is set to take effect.

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2:20 p.m.

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin has had several telephone conversations with key players in the Syrian conflict to discuss the provisional cease-fire deal proposed by Russia and the United States.

The Kremlin said on Wednesday that after a morning call with Syrian President Bashar Assad, Putin had a chat with the leaders of Iran and Saudi Arabia.

The statement says Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani talked about the cease-fire in Syria and both "stressed the importance of a further cooperation between Russia and Iran on Syrian peace settlement, including a continuation of a resolute fight against the IS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups from the UN Security sanctions list."

In a terse statement on Putin's conversation with the king of Saudi Arabia, the Kremlin said King Salman "welcomed the agreement that was reached and expressed his willingness to work with Russia to implement them."

Saudi Arabia is a key backer of rebels against President Assad while Iran like Russia is supporting the Syrian government.

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12:30 p.m.

A spokesman for a Saudi-backed alliance of Syrian opposition and rebel factions says the group has "major concerns" that Russia and the Syrian government will continue to strike at mainstream rebels under the pretext of hitting "terrorist groups" during the truce that is to go into effect later this week.

Salem Al Meslet says the alliance known as the High Negotiations Committee is holding open meetings in the Saudi capital of Riyadh and is seeking guarantees and clarifications from the United States about the mechanism for the implementation of the agreement.

He says however that the opposition wants to stop the bloodshed and would abide by the truce. Al Meslet spoke Wednesday in a phone interview with The Associated Press.

The agreement, engineered by the U.S. and Russia, is set to take effect at midnight Friday local time.

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11:50 a.m.

Syria's state-run news agency says Syrian President Bashar Assad has received a phone call from Russian leader Vladimir Putin.

SANA says that during the call with Putin on Wednesday, the Syrian president confirmed Damascus' readiness to support the implementation of the agreement for a "cessation of hostilities" in Syria.

The agreement, engineered by the U.S. and Russia, is set to take effect at midnight Friday local time. It does not cover the Islamic State group, Syria's al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front, or any other militia designated as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council.

SANA says the two leaders stressed the importance of continuing to fight the Islamic State, the Nusra Front "and other terrorist organizations."