The Latest: Damascus official warns Turkey, Saudi Arabia

AP News
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Posted: Mar 03, 2016 12:24 PM
The Latest: Damascus official warns Turkey, Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria's conflict as a partial cease-fire enters its sixth day (all times local):

7:25 p.m.

A Damascus official says the cease-fire in Syria can succeed if Turkey and Saudi Arabia cease interfering and halt their support for militants.

Ahmad Mounir, Syria's deputy minister of national reconciliation, told a group of international reporters on a trip organized by Russian foreign and defense ministries on Thursday that a peaceful settlement for his country would also curb the flow to refugees to Europe.

If there is no peace, Mounir says the "terror threat to Europe will increase."

He says the government is determined to continue "fighting terrorism," a reference to operations against the Islamic State group, the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and other militant factions excluded from the U.S.-Russia-brokered "cessation of hostilities," which started last Saturday.

He also reiterated President Bashar Assad's offer of amnesty to rebels who lay down their arms.

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5:05 p.m.

The leaders of Russia, Germany, Britain and France are planning to speak Friday about ways to shore up the Syria cease-fire.

Prime Minister David Cameron's office says the Western leaders would stress to Russian President Vladimir Putin the importance of maintaining the truce so that peace talks can make progress in Geneva next week.

Cameron's spokeswoman, Helen Bower, says it's an "opportunity for the leaders of the U.K., France and Germany to come together — in the way that they have before, when using the EU to put sanctions on Russia for its actions in eastern Ukraine — and make very clear to President Putin that we need this ceasefire to hold, to be a lasting one and to open the way for a real political transition in Syria."

Cameron told lawmakers on Wednesday that the cease fire was "imperfect," but said it was progress that it existed at all.

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3:40 p.m.

Europe's top governments will meet on Friday to examine the Syrian cease-fire and the country's humanitarian situation, almost one full week after the U.S.-Russia-brokered truce went into effect.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is convening the meeting in Paris with his German and British counterparts within hours of a visit to France by the Saudi foreign minister.

The cease-fire brokered by the United States and Russia is partial and — though it has largely held across Syria — it excludes the Islamic State group as well as Syria's al-Qaida branch, known as the Nusra Front, and other militant factions that the United Nations considers terrorist organizations.

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3:10 p.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria says the cease-fire is largely holding in the country and has "greatly reduced" violence, despite sporadic clashes in some cities.

Staffan de Mistura spoke on Thursday to reporters in Geneva before holding the third meeting of the so-called "cessation of hostilities" task force led by the United States and Russia. The group includes world and regional powers monitoring a truce that began on Saturday.

Mistura says he has set a "penciled date" of next Wednesday for Syrian peace talks to resume in the Swiss city, noting that "logistical" troubles like the Geneva Auto Show could reduce the number of available hotel rooms.

Also, de Mistura's humanitarian task force chief Jan Egeland says progress had been made in getting aid to "besieged" areas of Syria.

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2:20 p.m.

Syrian state TV is reporting an electricity blackout across the country for unknown reasons.

Syria TV reported Thursday that the electricity network was suddenly down across the entire country. It says maintenance crews were working on fixing the problem in the next few hours.

Electricity blackouts have been frequent in the course of Syria's five-year conflict but it is rare for the whole country to be affected. Previous blackouts were blamed on rebel attacks targeting the electricity network but no reason was giving for Thursday's blackout

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1:30 p.m.

Russian and Syrian government forces have been targeting hospitals as a strategy of war in Syria's conflict, according to a report released by a rights group Thursday.

Amnesty International said it has "compelling evidence" of at least six deliberate attacks on medical facilities in the Aleppo governorate over the past twelve weeks, which killed at least three civilians, including a medical worker, and injured 44 more. It said the attacks amounted to war crimes.

Aleppo witnessed some of the country's fiercest fighting in the buildup to the partial cease-fire that came into effect Friday as government forces backed by Russian airstrikes cut off a rebel supply route from Turkey.

Amnesty said the attacks on medical facilities aimed to pave the way for pro-government ground forces to advance on northern Aleppo.