The Latest: Kerry remains hopeful on Syria peace talks

AP News
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Posted: Feb 19, 2016 3:00 PM
The Latest: Kerry remains hopeful on Syria peace talks

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

10 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he remains hopeful about a ceasefire and peace talks for Syria, even though the talks to help resolve the nearly 5-year-old civil war that has killed 250,000 people will not resume next week.

Fighting has fighting intensified in Syria over the past weeks and a deadline to cease military activities was not observed. The United States, Russia and other world powers agreed Feb. 12 on a deal to cease hostilities within a week, the delivery of urgently needed aid to besieged areas of Syria and a return to peace talks in Geneva.

Kerry, who on Friday was in London en route to Jordan for talks about Syria and other issues, said he has been touch with the U.S. team in Geneva and that the negotiators have been in constant talks for the past 36 hours.

He says the issues are tough and complex and there is more work to do to resolve them. He added that the U.S. wants the process to be sustainable so that hostilities can be halted.

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7:30 p.m.

An activist group and an official say a predominantly Kurdish militia force in Syria has captured a major stronghold for the extremist Islamic State group in the country's northeast.

Talal Sillo, spokesman for the Syria Democratic Forces, says their fighters captured the town of Shaddadeh after sunset Friday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the town fell to SDF forces under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition.

SDF has become one of the most effective forces fighting IS and the capture of Shaddadeh boosts the group's image as a faction fighting the extremists.

Sillo told The Associated Press by telephone that "we have fully liberated Shaddadeh" adding that the next step is to remove booby traps and explosives left behind by extremists.

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6:40 p.m.

Russia says it is calling for an urgent meeting of the U.N. Security Council later Friday to discuss what it calls the deteriorating situation on the Turkish-Syrian border and Turkey's plans to send troops into Syria.

A statement posted Friday on the foreign ministry's website says Russia intends to submit a draft council resolution calling on Turkey to "cease any actions that undermine Syria's sovereignty and territorial integrity."

Turkey's military on Friday was pushing ahead with its cross-border artillery shelling campaign against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia positions in Syria.

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6:20 p.m.

Amnesty International says injured Syrians fleeing bombings in northern Syria and in need of medical attention are being denied entry into Turkey.

The human rights group also said Friday that Turkish security forces have shot and injured Syrians, including children, who have attempted to cross the border with the help of smugglers.

A Turkish government official denied the report saying Turkey has treated "all of the injured" arriving at a border crossing seeking medical assistance. The official said Turkey had treated close to 700,000 Syrians — including 45,000 who received surgery — since 2012, in the border province of Kilis alone. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

Amnesty said that, in recent weeks, only severely injured people are being allowed in and that those whose conditions are not deemed to be life-threatening, as well as those not in need of immediate care, are being turned back.

With some 2.6 million Syrian refugees, Turkey is host to the largest refugee population in the world. In recent weeks however, the country kept its border closed to tens of thousands of Syrians who have rushed to the border, fleeing a Russian-backed Syrian campaign in northern Syria.

—By Suzan Fraser.

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6:10 p.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria says preparations are underway for a meeting of a multi-nation "task force" led by Russia and the United States aimed to help bring about a ceasefire in the war-ravaged country.

The office of Staffan de Mistura says in a statement released on Friday that it will provide a revised timing for the meeting in Geneva "as soon as possible."

Seventeen world and regional powers including Iran, Turkey and Saudi Arabia were invited to the first gathering of the task force aimed to forge a temporary truce in Syria's five-year civil war that has killed at least 250,000 people and displaced at least 11 million people, according to U.N. estimates.

Diplomats said the closed-door meeting was expected to take place at the U.N. offices in Geneva.

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5:30 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is "deeply alarmed' by the situation in the northern Syrian province of Aleppo where intensified fighting has forced 70,000 people to flee their homes and left many without water or electricity.

ICRC says in a statement Friday that two hospitals hit earlier this week in Aleppo has left them out of service. They had provided thousands of consultations, surgeries and delivered hundreds of babies per month. The Red Cross also says that the hospitals which are still standing are struggling to function.

Syrian troops and a predominantly Kurdish militia have been on the offensive in northern Syria, capturing dozens of villages and towns from rebels and militant groups.

The ICRC called on all parties to the conflict to immediately halt attacks on health care facilities and personnel.

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4:25 p.m.

German prosecutors have indicted a 21-year-old German citizen accused of posing for photos with severed heads in Syria.

Federal prosecutors said Friday that the man, identified only as Aria L. in line with German privacy rules, was charged with committing a war crime. He has been in custody since being arrested in October.

Prosecutors said in a statement Friday that he traveled to Syria in early 2014 with the intention of joining Islamic extremist militias, and met an acquaintance from Germany who gave him weapons training.

They say that, at some point before mid-April 2014, the suspect was photographed with his acquaintance and another person posing in front of two severed heads impaled on metal spikes. One of the pictures was shared on social media.

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2:45 p.m.

Turkey's president says authorities don't "have the slightest doubt" that a Syrian Kurdish militia group carried out the deadly suicide car bombing in Ankara.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said Friday that Turkey was "saddened" by its Western allies' failure to brand the group a terror organization.

Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul: "We are saddened by the West's reluctance to understand... What else do you (the West) want from us? We have given you all the documents and information."

The Turkish leader also said he would discuss the issue with U.S. President Barack Obama later on Friday.

The United States has relied on the Kurdish Syrian militias in the fight against the Islamic State group and has resisted Turkish calls to cut off ties to them.

Wednesday's rush hour attack in central Ankara targeted buses carrying military personnel and killed 28 people. Authorities have detained 17 people in connection with the attack.

But Erdogan said only three of the suspects are believed to have had "active part" in the attack.

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1:30 p.m.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has discussed the Syrian crisis in a telephone call with Saudi King Salman.

The Kremlin said Friday that Putin and the king "expressed interest in settling the Syrian crisis and ensuring stability and security in the entire region of the Middle East and North Africa." Putin also reaffirmed his invitation for the king to visit Russia at a time that would be convenient for him.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency simply said that "diplomatic relations were discussed in addition to the review of the latest developments in the region."

Moscow and Shiite power Iran back embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Sunni-ruled kingdom of Saudi Arabia has supported Assad's foes throughout the five-year conflict and says it is ready to send ground forces into the country.

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1:15 p.m.

The World Food Program says it hopes aid deliveries to besieged areas of Syria were "not a one-off" convoy and will continue, as the U.N agency prepares an airdrop to reach 200,000 in a city surrounded by the Islamic State group.

WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher made the comments a day after the U.N. announced 114 trucks had delivered life-saving supplies over the previous 24 hours for 80,000 people in five besieged areas of Syria.

She said the WFP is preparing a "high-altitude" airdrop into the city of Deir el-Zour, whose residents are being besieged by IS fighters, in coordination with Syrian Arab Red Crescent operatives on the ground.

Luescher said Friday that "a WFP registered company" with experience in airdrops was expected to leave from as as-yet-undetermined country in the region.

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12:45 p.m.

An official with a predominantly Kurdish coalition in northern Syria says Turkish troops are bombing their positions in border areas and inflicting casualties among civilians.

Ahmad al-Omar of the Syria Democratic Forces said Friday that the shelling hit several areas including the town of Jandairis.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the shelling in areas of northern Syria lasted seven hours, killing two and wounding others.

The SDF has become the most effective force fighting the Islamic State group. The group recently captured large areas in northern Syria, raising concerns in Turkey.

SDF is dominated by the main Kurdish militia, known as the YPG. Turkey has blamed the YPG as well as Turkey's own Kurdish rebels, for Wednesday's bomb attack in Ankara that killed 28 people.

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12:15 p.m.

U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura says peace talks won't resume in Geneva on Feb. 25 as he had previously hoped.

De Mistura told Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet that he cannot "realistically" get the parties in the Syrian conflict back to the table by then, "but we intend to do so soon."

De Mistura halted the latest talks on Feb. 5 because of major differences between the two sides, exacerbated by increased aerial bombings and military action on the ground.

In an interview published late Thursday on Svenska Dagbladet's website, he said, "we need real talks about peace, not just talks about talks. Now the Americans and Russians must sit down and agree on a concrete plan on the cessation of hostilities."

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11:20 a.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says the Turkish military is pushing ahead with its cross-border artillery shelling campaign against U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia positions in Syria.

Anadolu Agency reported late on Thursday that artillery shells had "intermittently" targeted militia positions near the town of Azaz.

The report came as Turkey blamed the Syrian militia group as well as Turkey's own Kurdish rebels for Wednesday's bomb attack in Ankara that killed 28 people. It also called on its allies to cut off support to the militia group.

The Kurdish militia, however, has been most effective in the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

Ankara appears increasingly uneasy over the group's recent gains across its border and has continued to shell the militia despite international calls for it to stop.