The Latest: 18 US-backed rebels killed in Syria car bomb

AP News
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Posted: Mar 02, 2016 9:34 AM

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict as a cease-fire enters its fifth day (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

Opposition activists say a car bomb in southern Syria has killed at least 18 rebels including the commander of a U.S.-backed armed opposition group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the car bomb exploded Wednesday afternoon in the southern village of Asheh, in Quneitra province, killing at least 18 fighters.

A Quneitra-based opposition activist who goes by the name of Abu Omar al-Golani says that 20 fighters were killed in the blast, including the commander of the Syria Revolutionaries Front, Capt. Abu Hamza al-Naimi.

He says the blast went off when several commanders were meeting at the group's office in Asheh.

The Syria Revolutionaries Front is a moderate rebel group that was largely crushed in northern Syria in late 2014 by al-Qaida's Syrian branch, known as the Nusra Front.

4:15 p.m.

A Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman says that the cease-fire in Syria has been violated 31 times since it came into effect midnight Friday.

During a Wednesday press briefing in Moscow, Maria Zakharova rebuffed suggestions that the cease-fire would end after a two-week period.

When asked about the possible federalization in Syria, Zakharova said it is up to the Syrian people to determine their government's structure.

She echoed previous statements from Russian officials that the Kurds should be part of future peace talks in Syria

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4:10 p.m.

A Turkish official says Turkey has not hit any targets other than the Islamic State group since the cease-fire came into effect in Syria.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic told reporters Wednesday that Turkish artillery units fired at IS positions on Feb. 28 and no other action has been taken.

Turkey had warned before the truce came into effect that it might continue attacking Syrian Kurdish militia if they posed a threat to its security.

Bilgic said Turkey has received information that both Russia and the Syrian government have carried out bombings in breach of the truce.

The spokesman also dismissed Russian claims that Turkey sent weapons to Syria hidden inside aid convoys, saying the accusations "cannot be taken seriously."

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3:50 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian agency says aid convoys to besieged areas of Syria are being delayed because of several issues of a "logistical nature."

Spokesman Jens Laerke of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Wednesday it is critical for the assistance to proceed but "we need a much simpler procedure."

As a U.S. and Russian-engineered cease-fire took hold in Syria, the U.N. said Monday it plans to deliver assistance to about 154,000 people over the next five days in Syria.

Some assistance entered the Damascus suburb of Moadamiyeh Monday but the rest of the aid has been held up. Laerke told AP in Geneva "it's a mixture of things" including "facilitation letters" that are still pending with the Syrian government

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3:30 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists and state media say a Kurdish-led fighting alliance has captured a hill overlooking a main road in Aleppo from the militant Nusra Front group and its allies, in a surprise offensive aimed at encircling the northern city.

The predominantly Kurdish U.S-backed Syrian Democratic Forces' offensive Wednesday mostly likely does not break the cease-fire that came into effect Friday, because Nusra Front and Islamic State group are excluded from the agreement.

Syrian troops and the SDF had halted their offensive in northern Syria for days after the cease-fire began.

Syrian state TV reported that pro-government gunmen captured Castello hill, "cutting supply lines for terrorists" in eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo with southern parts of the Aleppo province.

Sami al-Raj, an Aleppo-based opposition activist, confirmed via Skype the SDF advances.