The Latest: Mixed reports as cease-fire takes hold in Syria

AP News
Posted: Feb 26, 2016 6:12 PM
The Latest: Mixed reports as cease-fire takes hold in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria and the provisional cease-fire proposed by the U.S. and Russia that is to go into effect at midnight (all times local):

1:00 a.m.

The Associated Press reporters in the Syrian capital, Damascus, have not heard sounds of any explosions since three minutes before the Russia and U.S.-brokered cease-fire took effect across Syria at midnight.

An opposition activist in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta also reported quiet in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Speaking shortly after midnight Mazen al-Shami said that "Eastern Ghouta is quiet for the first time in years."

The suburb of Ghouta has witnessed heavy fighting over Syria's five year civil war.

An opposition activist in a rebel-held town in Homs province says that the cease-fire was violated within 15 minutes of coming into effect when the Syrian government army began shelling the town.

Mohammed al-Sibai told AP Saturday that the army continued its assault on rebel-held positions in the town of Talbiseh at around 12:15 a.m. local time but said later it was calm.

Ahmad al-Masalmeh, an opposition activist in the southern city of Daraa, says the intense fighting across southern Syria suddenly stopped at midnight.

"In the first half an hour of the cease-fire the situation is relatively calm but tense," al-Masalmeh said via Skype.

He says that it is quiet in the city of Daraa and nearby areas, but there is intense shooting at the village of Yadoudeh in Daraa province. In the village of Lajat, in Daraa province, two people were wounded by government shelling, he says.

The U.S. and Russian brokered cease-fire came into effect at midnight Friday, but does not include Islamic State group or the al-Qaida affiliated Nusra Front.


12.00 p.m.

A cease-fire brokered by the US and Russia has come into effect across Syria, but the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, are excluded.

The cease-fire aims at reducing violence in Syria with the hope of bringing back representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition to the negotiating table in Geneva for talks on a political transition.

If the cessation of hostilities holds, it would be the first time international negotiations have brought any degree of quiet in Syria's five-year civil war.

The Syrian government and the opposition, including nearly 100 rebel groups, have said they will abide by the cease-fire despite serious skepticism about chances for success.


11.20 p.m.

The United Nations special envoy for Syria says peace talks will resume on Monday March 7 if the "cessations of hostilities" set to take effect holds.

Staffan de Mistura told the Security Council via video conference from Geneva on Friday that he hoped the cease-fire will provide a chance for humanitarian aid to reach those battered by Syria's five-year civil war and allow for a political solution.

The cease-fire is scheduled to take effect at midnight local time.

Less than an hour before the cessation of hostilities was set to begin, the 15-member Security Council unanimously endorsed the agreement worked out between the United States and Russia


8.10 p.m.

The spokesman for the United Nations secretary-general notes "an increase of military activity across the board in Syria" in the day leading up to the cessation of hostilities that is set to start at midnight local time.

"It's tragic but unfortunately not surprising," Stephane Dujarric told reporters Friday.

With hours to go before the cease-fire, Dujarric added: "The only thing that is required is for people to take their fingers off the trigger."

Warplanes on Friday are launching airstrikes against rebel-held positions in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and near the northern city of Aleppo.


6.40 p.m.

A top Turkish official says Turkey has not ruled out airstrikes against a U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish militia group, "depending on the situation on the ground."

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish group, known as the People's Protection Units, or YPG, a terror organization because of its links to Turkey's own outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, and has been shelling its positions inside Syria along the border with Turkey.

Speaking reporters on Friday, Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also said Turkey would not accept a transitional government for Syria that would be headed by Assad, saying the Syrian leader is not in a position to unify Syria.

Turkey has said that it would not be bound by the Syria cease-fire agreement that comes into effect at midnight Friday and would take action against the YPG if it threatens Turkey.

In response to a question on possible airstrikes on the YPG, Kalin said: "If there are threats we will take measures against them as part of our engagement rules."


6.35 p.m.

The United Nations has convened the first meeting of a special task force to monitor a cessation of hostilities in Syria just hours before it takes effect.

U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura was hosting Friday's meeting of envoys from the 17-member International Syria Support Group at the U.N offices in Geneva, before addressing the Security Council by videoconference later in the day.

The United States and Russia announced the cessation of hostilities on Monday, and the task force is supposed to monitor whether it is implemented.

The Syrian government and a leading opposition bloc have agreed to the cessation of hostilities set to begin at midnight. The accord excludes U.N.-designated terrorist groups like the Islamic State group and Nusra Front, which hold swaths of territory in war-torn Syria.


6.30 p.m.

The leader of al-Qaida's branch in Syria has rejected a U.S.-Russian sponsored truce, saying the real negotiations are on the battle field.

Russia and the United States brokered the cease-fire, which does not include the Islamic State group or the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria.

The truce will go into effect at midnight Friday and some 97 rebel groups have said they will abide by it.

In an audio message posted online Friday, al-Golani said "be careful of the betrayal of the West and America, be careful of the betrayal of Rafida and Alawites." Golani used a derogatory term to refer to Shiite Muslims.

"The truce will lead to a political solution which keeps the security and military institutions in mandate of criminality and killings," he warned.


5.35 p.m.

The U.N. Security Council is expected to vote Friday afternoon on a draft resolution endorsing the "cessation of hostilities" in Syria that is set to start at midnight local time.

The draft, obtained by The Associated Press, also urges the U.N. secretary-general to resume Syria peace talks "as soon as possible."

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura is expected to announce a date for the resumption of talks after briefing the council on Friday afternoon.

The draft resolution also expresses support for an international working group meant to "accelerate the urgent delivery of humanitarian aid," with the goal of sustained and unimpeded aid access to all parts of Syria.

That includes besieged areas, where hundreds of thousands of people are said to remain.


4.45 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister is urging the warring factions in Syria to refrain from actions that could derail the planned cease-fire in the country.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Friday reports that Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs on Daraya "cause us great concern."

He urged President Bashar Assad's government to halt attacks on civilians and called on "all parties to refrain from steps that could endanger the cease-fire so close to it coming into effect."

The cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia is due to go into effect at midnight local time across Syria.


2:30 p.m.

Russia's Vladimir Putin says his country will keep hitting "terrorist organizations" in Syria even as the U.S.-Russia-engineered truce goes into effect at midnight.

The Russian president reiterated at a meeting of top officials of the Federal Security Service on Friday that the cease-fire does not cover groups such as the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other factions.

The state news agency Tass quoted him as saying that the "decisive fight against them will certainly continue."

Russia says the airstrikes that it began in Syria in late September are directed solely at terrorists, but critics claim Russia is also targeting other fighters who are battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.


2:20 p.m.

Syria's main umbrella of opposition and rebel groups says dozens of factions have agreed to abide by the cease-fire that is due to go into effect at midnight.

The alliance, known as High Negotiations Committee, said in a statement on Friday that 97 factions will abide by the truce. It added that it has formed a military committee to follow up on the truce.

Russia and the United States brokered the cease-fire, which does not include the Islamic State group or the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria.

The Syrian government said it will abide by the truce but will have the right to retaliate for any attacks. The opposition has demanded that Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad's main backers, also abide by the truce.


1 p.m.

A top Turkish presidential aide says Ankara is concerned over Russian bombings and Syrian forces' ground operations ahead of a truce due to go into effect at midnight Friday.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters Friday that Turkey supports the cease-fire agreement in principle but is worried about the continued operations.

Kalin says the "fact that Russian bombings and attacks by (Syrian President Bashar) Assad's forces continued even last night, is leading to serious concerns on the future of the cease-fire."

Kalin also warned the refugee crisis that has hit Europe will escalate unless the Syrian government's ground operations are stopped.


12:50 p.m.

A top aide to Turkey's president says Saudi military aircraft that will join the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria have begun arriving at an air base in southern Turkey.

Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters on Friday that the Saudi deployment to Incirlik air base has started. He did not provide details as to how many aircraft have arrived so far.

The Saudi deployment comes as a U.S. and Russia-engineered cease-fire is due to take effect at midnight on Friday. The truce agreement, however, does not cover the IS, 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.


12:40 p.m.

The Kremlin has denied allegations that Russia's air force bombed civilian positions east of Damascus on the eve of the ceasefire.

During a call with journalists, President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied accusations made by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that Russia launched airstrikes over the rebel-held town of Douma on Thursday evening.

Peskov says this wasn't "the first time this observation group has published unconfirmed information that isn't backed up by facts."

He added that Russia will continue its military operation in Syria against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida's branch known as the Nusra Front and others on the U.N. Security Council's list.


11 a.m.

Syria's state media and an opposition monitoring group say government forces have captured several villages from Islamic State extremists in the northern province of Aleppo.

The SANA news agency says government troops on Friday took three villages near the town of Khanaser, which they recaptured from the IS group the previous day.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that two villages were taken by the government troops, saying they are working to open the only road linking the city of Aleppo with central and western Syria.

The fighting comes ahead of a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia, which is to go into effect at midnight. IS is not included in the cease-fire.

IS attacked the Khanaser area Monday, capturing the town only to lose it Thursday.