The Latest: US position on Assad hasn't changed, envoy says

AP News
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Posted: Dec 16, 2015 2:29 PM
The Latest: US position on Assad hasn't changed, envoy says

BEIRUT (AP) — The latest news on developments in the Syrian conflict. All times local:

9:30 p.m.

The United States' ambassador to the United Nations says the U.S. position on Syrian President Bashar Assad has not changed: "There is going to have to be a political transition, and Assad will have to go."

Samantha Power spoke to reporters Wednesday ahead of Friday's major international conference on Syria in New York.

Power says the talks will look at the "gaps" between American and Russian and Iranian positions on the fate of Assad — and she says those gaps remain "very real."

The U.N. Security Council is expected to consider a resolution later Friday endorsing the talks.

Power says the resolution would be the first high-profile gesture by the often divided council to "show its unity around the importance of achieving a political settlement and a political transition."

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9:10 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says it's unacceptable that a solution to the Syrian civil war depends on the fate of one man — President Bashar Assad.

Ban told a news conference on Wednesday that the United Nations is pressing for a nationwide cease-fire and the start of negotiations on a political settlement in January to end the nearly five-year conflict "and we must not relent."

He welcomed Friday's meeting in New York of about 20 key nations trying to restore peace to Syria and noted that some countries are talking about Assad staying in power for "limited months" during a transition "but that will have to be decided later on."

Ban says that "in principle, it's up to the Syrian people who should make a decision about the future" of Assad.

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6:45 p.m.

Human Rights Watch says Russia and other nations trying to help launch peace negotiations in Syria should make the fate of the thousands of people detained by the Syrian government a top priority.

HRW said in a report released Wednesday that all participants in international efforts to help settle the crisis should insist that the Syrian government give international monitors immediate access to all detention centers and that Syria's intelligence services must release all arbitrarily detained and political prisoners.

Nadim Houry, HRW deputy Middle East director, said at a news conference in Moscow that there must be a real push "for independent monitors to be finally granted access to detention facilities." He voiced hope that Russia, a top backer of Assad, would play a key role.

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6:10 p.m.

The Kremlin has denied that a top Iranian general has visited Moscow to discuss Syria and other issues with President Vladimir Putin.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday denied an Iranian report claiming that Gen. Qassem Soleimani, head of Iran's elite Quds Force, met with Putin last week.

The Kremlin has denied similar claims in the past.

Moscow and Tehran have been the key backers of Assad throughout Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 250,000 people and turned millions into refugees since 2011. Russia has conducted an air campaign in Syria since Sept. 30, while Tehran has sent military advisers to shore up Assad.

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5:40 p.m.

Russian lawmakers say after hearing a report by the nation's defense minister that Russia's air campaign in Syria will not end quickly.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in remarks before the Russian parliament that "we can't expect the operation to end fast," according to Vladimir Gutenev, a lawmaker who was quoted by Russian news agencies. The parliamentary session was closed to the media, but Gutenev and other lawmakers offered highlights of Shoigu's speech.

According to Gutenev, Shoigu said that there is no quick end in sight for the Russian operation because extremist groups are getting new recruits and unspecified other nations fail to offer a strong contribution in the fight against terrorism.

Another lawmaker, Vladimir Komoyedov, said Shogu has reaffirmed that Russia has no intention of engaging in ground combat.

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4:55 p.m.

Britain's foreign minister says there have been no reports of civilian casualties from U.K. airstrikes on Islamic State targets in Iraq or Syria.

The Royal Air Force has been attacking the extremist IS group in Iraq since last year, and Parliament voted Dec. 2 to expand the campaign to Syria.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says 16 RAF Typhoon and Tornado jets were taking part in the air campaign.

Hammond told lawmakers in the House of Commons on Wednesday that there had been "no reports of civilian casualties" in the strikes, which have mostly hit targets in Iraq.

In addition to the air campaign, Britain has sent Royal Navy warship, HMS Defender, to the Indian Ocean to assist the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle with air strikes against IS.

Hammond also says most Russian airstrikes were hitting opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad, rather than IS.

He says it's "unacceptable that Russian action is weakening the opposition" and in the process helping the Islamic State group that Russia claims to oppose.

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12:45 p.m.

Syria's state media is reporting that government forces have captured a strategic mountain in the country's northwest.

State TV quoted an unnamed military official as saying that troops and pro-government militiamen captured the Nouba mountain in Latakia province early Wednesday.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive in different parts of the country under the cover of Russian airstrikes that began on Sept. 30.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the capture of Nouba mountain opens the way for government forces to approach the rebel stronghold of Salma.

The Observatory said the government troops were backed by fighters from Lebanon's Hezbollah group.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV, which has a reporter embedded with Syrian troops, said government forces raised the Syrian flag over the mountain that overlooks a swath of rebel-held areas in Latakia.

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10:20 a.m.

The German military says it's flown its first mission in support of the coalition effort against the so-called Islamic State group in Syria.

The Bundeswehr said Wednesday that a German tanker aircraft had refueled two fighter jets in-air as they flew missions against the extremist group, the dpa news agency reported.

A German frigate is also providing protection to the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, and German Tornado reconnaissance jets are expected to begin flying surveillance missions in January.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pledged the support after France asked for help in the wake of the recent deadly attacks in Paris.

Up to 1,200 troops will also be involved in the German mission, which is an exclusively non-combat support deployment.