The Latest: NATO chief says Syria cease-fire largely holding

AP News
Posted: Feb 29, 2016 1:49 PM
The Latest: NATO chief says Syria cease-fire largely holding

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria as a fragile cease-fire enters its third day (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

The secretary-general of NATO says the cease-fire in Syria is "largely holding," though he remains concerned about the Russian military buildup in the country.

Jens Stoltenberg made the comments on a visit to Kuwait on Monday.

Responding to a journalist's question, Stoltenberg said: "We are concerned about the significant Russian military buildup we have seen in Syria, with the ground troops, with the naval forces in the eastern Mediterranean and with air forces conducting airstrikes and so far they have mainly targeted not ISIL but other opposition groups." He made the comment using an alternate acronym for the Islamic State group.

He also stressed that "there are no plans about NATO providing ground troops for the military operations in Syria."


8:40 p.m.

The World Food Program says the record $675 million pledged to the U.N. agency earlier this month will allow it to fully restore food assistance to Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Egypt from March until the end of the year.

WFP said in an announcement Monday that the funds will also enable the agency to provide a full food basket for families inside Syria from April until October.

WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin said the generosity of world leaders at the London conference "means we are able to fully meet the immediate basic food assistance needs of 1.8 million refugees in the region and 4.5 million Syrians inside the country who rely on WFP assistance every day."

WFP singled out Germany's contribution to the agency of €570 million or $623 million.


8:15 p.m.

Syrian residents of Kuwait say airport officials there have kept them waiting for more than 48 hours, barring their re-entry on suspicion of having forged passports.

Ayman Nashewati, a 42-year-old sound engineer who works in Kuwait, told The Associated Press he returned on Saturday after a trip to nearby Dubai and that upon his arrival at the airport, officials put him in a waiting room with other Syrians on suspicion of having forged passports.

He says more than 50 Syrians, including children, were transferred Monday to a nearby airport hotel until further notice.

State-affiliated newspaper al-Qabas on Monday quoted an unnamed official as saying Kuwaiti authorities have been instructed not to accept Syrian passport holders due to alleged incidents of fraud with documents issued in Damascus.


6 p.m.

Turkey's president says hostilities are continuing in parts of Syria, adding that he hopes the fragile cease-fire currently entering its third day can spread to the whole of the country.

During a visit to the Ivory Coast on Monday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan said: "There isn't an overall cease-fire in the country and the attacks there are unfortunately, continuing from position to position."

Erdogan did not provide further details. His comments were televised live in Turkey.


5:30 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says Turkish artillery have shelled Islamic State militants' positions in Syria.

The Anadolu Agency says Monday that artillery units fired at IS headquarters, gun positions and vehicle-mounted rocket-launchers north of Aleppo. It said the attack took place on Sunday and some 40 IS positions were targeted.

Turkey is part of the U.S.-led anti-IS coalition, but had been mostly focusing its attacks on Kurdish rebels inside Turkey or in northern Iraq.

Turkish artillery have also been hitting positions of a Syrian Kurdish militia group in recent weeks, claiming to be responding to provocations by the U.S.-backed group. Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia to be terrorists because of their affiliation to Turkey's own Kurdish rebels.


3:40 p.m.

An official with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent says dozens of trucks carrying aid have started entering a besieged rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, for the first time since a truce went into effect two days ago.

Muhannad al-Assadi says the 51 trucks are not carrying food, but domestic supplies such as blankets, soap and diapers.

Al-Assadi says Monday's is the third aid convoy that has been allowed to enter the suburb of Moadamiyeh in recent weeks.

Allowing aid into rebel-held areas has been a main demand by the opposition to return to U.N.-sponsored indirect peace talks in Geneva that collapsed on Feb. 3.

The United Nations says there are nearly half a million people in besieged areas in Syria.


3:30 p.m.

Russia's deputy foreign minister says Turkish cross-border strikes into Syria undermine the recent cease-fire agreement and will eventually cause its collapse.

Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that Russia is "deeply concerned" about cease-fire violations along the Turkey-Syria border and called Turkish military action in Syria, "inadmissible."

Ryabkov denied opposition claims that Damascus had also violated the terms of the agreement.

During the Monday press conference in Moscow, Ryabkov emphasized the importance of including the Kurds in peace talks, saying that without their participation, the fragile peace will not hold.

Ryabkov also said Russia is ready to renew working with the United States "in all formats."


3 p.m.

Syria's Foreign Ministry is harshly criticizing Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, saying his recent statements demonstrate the kingdom's "destructive role" in Syria.

Monday's statement came a day after al-Jubeir reiterated Saudi Arabia's longstanding position that Syrian President Bashar Assad has no place in the future of Syria and that he must leave power, either peacefully or through military means.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said al-Jubeir's comments are an attempt to damage a truce brokered by Russia and the U.S. that went into effect Friday at midnight.

It added that al-Jubeir's comments are "lies meant to boost the morale" of Saudi-backed militants who have suffered setbacks in recent weeks in different parts of Syria thanks to intense Russian airstrikes.


2:30 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says a cessation of hostilities in Syria is holding "by and large" and wants it extended beyond the initial planned duration of two weeks.

Speaking to reporters Monday in Geneva, Ban confirmed receiving a letter from the High Negotiations Committee, the main umbrella opposition group. It urged the U.N. to help "specify the territory covered by the truce to prevent hostilities in the designated inclusion zones."

Both Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad which has been conducting air strikes over Syria, and the so-called "moderate opposition — excluding U.N.-designated terror groups like the Islamic State group — have pointed to repeated violations of the cessation of hostilities since it took effect Friday at midnight.


2:15 p.m.

The office of the U.N. human rights chief says thousands of people risk starving to death in besieged Syrian towns and villages that are inaccessible to humanitarian aid groups.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein told the opening session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that some 450,000 people are now trapped in besieged towns and villages in Syria — some for years — and aid deliveries of food, medicine and other aid has been "repeatedly obstructed."

During his address, al-Hussein said "thousands of people may have starved to death" — but his office issued a statement shortly afterward indicating that he meant to say "thousands risk starving to death."

Al-Hussein also decried that at least 10 hospitals and other medical sites had been damaged or destroyed by strikes in Syria this year.


1:30 p.m.

The United Nations says it plans to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to about 154,000 people living in besieged locations inside Syria over the next five days.

A briefing note sent out by OCHA Monday says the assistance will include food, water and sanitation supplies, as well as non-food items and medicine to people trapped in besieged areas.

It called on all parties to ensure unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all 4.6 million people in hard-to-reach or besieged locations across Syria.

The U.N. estimates that close to half a million people in Syria are trapped in areas under blockade across the war-ravaged country.

Aid deliveries are a main opposition demand ahead of the planned resumption of Syrian peace talks in Geneva on March 7.


1 p.m.

The French foreign minister is calling for a meeting "without delay" of a task force to monitor a cessation of hostilities in Syria following reports of air strikes targeting the moderate opposition.

Jean-Marc Ayrault made the comments Monday shortly before addressing a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has already been planning a meeting of the task force, led by the United States and Russia, later in the day.

Ayrault told reporters he planned to discuss the "attacks including by air" with de Mistura and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Critics say Russia and Syrian forces have been targeting the moderate opposition.

The cessation of hostilities has largely held despite violations by both sides since it went into effect Friday at midnight.


12:30 p.m.

Lebanon's militant Hezbollah group says it has recovered the body of a senior commander who was killed during fighting in Syria's northern province of Aleppo.

Hezbollah said Monday the body of Ali Fayyad, known locally as Haj Alaa, was recovered Sunday night in an operation in which Syrian army and Hezbollah special forces took part.

A Russia-U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect on Saturday is largely holding despite violations by both sides.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside government troops in Syria and the forces recently took from Islamic State militants the town of Khanaser and its surroundings in Aleppo.

Fayyad is a Hezbollah veteran who has led major battles against the Israeli army in south Lebanon. Lebanese media say he was among four Hezbollah fighters killed in Aleppo last week.