The Latest: Putin and Obama discuss Syria situation

AP News
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Posted: Apr 18, 2016 2:22 PM
The Latest: Putin and Obama discuss Syria situation

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian civil war (all times local):

9:20 p.m.

The Kremlin says Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama have discussed the situation in Syria and agreed to increase coordination between the special services and militaries of the two countries.

"For this purpose, additional measures for the rapid response to violations of the cease-fire will be worked out," the Kremlin statement said.

In Monday's call, the Kremlin said Putin emphasized the need to distance the moderate opposition from the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, and also to stop the flow of fighters and arms into Syria from Turkey.

The statement said both presidents stressed the importance of the Geneva talks, which should contribute to finding a political solution to the conflict.

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8:30 p.m.

A Syrian chief opposition negotiator says indirect talks with the government of President Bashar Assad have "hit a wall," speaking after his delegation postponed its participation in the Geneva negotiations.

Speaking to the Associated Press in Geneva, Mohammed Alloush, a chief negotiator for the main opposition coalition, the High Negotiations Committee, says the government has repeatedly violated the cease-fire agreement in effect since late February— attacking opposition locations and preventing humanitarian aid from reaching areas controlled by the rebels.

He also said Assad's government continued to receive assistance from its allies Iran and Russia to support its military campaign. Alloush said: "All these interventions give a clear indication that the solution in Syria with the presence of this regime has become shut or we have hit a wall."

The U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said Monday the HNC will postpone its participation in the formal talks but will remain in Geneva to engage in "technical discussions" with him and his team over the political transition in Syria.

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8:00 p.m.

The Syrian opposition coalition in Geneva says the continuation of peace negotiations amid government attacks and denial of humanitarian access seems "absurd."

The High Negotiations Committee has called for a "serious review" of the talks, saying in a statement Monday that it will postpone its participation in the talks — not walk out — to give time for such a review.

In a statement posted by Riad Agha, a delegation member, on his Facebook page and shared by other opposition members, the HNC said the postponement "is a chance for all to implement (the relevant UN resolution) and to respond to the main issue, which is forming a governing body in which (President Bashar) Assad has no role."

The U.N. Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he convinced the opposition delegation to remain in Geneva to engage in "technical discussions" with him and his team over Syria's political transition. He didn't elaborate.

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7:45 p.m.

The UN envoy says the Syrian opposition has expressed its "intention to postpone" participation in Geneva peace talks because of government violations of the cease-fire.

Staffan de Mistura said Monday that the negotiations will nevertheless continue as the opposition representatives agreed to stay in Geneva to engage in "technical" discussions on issues of political transition for Syria. He says they will all "take stock" on Friday.

De Mistura says he understands the move by the opposition to be "one way for them to express their displeasure, concern" about the humanitarian situation and the security environment, especially in northern Syria.

6:20 p.m.

Turkish officials say rocket projectiles fired from Syria have killed four Syrians — three of them children — in a Turkish border town.

The governor's office says four rocket projectiles that hit the town of Kilis also wounded a Turkish citizen and five other Syrians.

The state-run Anadolu Agency said earlier that one of the victims was a 40-year-old Syrian shepherd who died when one of the projectiles exploded near a middle school in Kilis.

The town's local population is outnumbered by the Syrian refugees living there.

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6 p.m.

The head of the main Syrian opposition coalition says it is "unacceptable" for the peace talks in Geneva to continue amid government violations of a cease-fire in place since late February.

In a series of comments posted on Twitter Monday, Riad Hijab, the head of the Higher Negotiations Committee, says the Syrian government and its allies have used the talks as a "pretext" for waging their military campaign. He says the government has also kept up its siege of civilian areas.

The U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire brought weeks of relative calm to much of Syria, but appears to be breaking down across the north, where insurgents have launched an offensive they say is in retaliation for government breaches.

Both sides have repeatedly accused the other of violating the truce.

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5:20 p.m.

The main Syrian opposition group has sent a sharply-reduced delegation to meet with a U.N. mediator in Geneva peace talks, amid renewed rebel fighting on the ground.

A Western diplomat familiar with the talks says the opposition High Negotiations Committee was considering whether to continue participating. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The HNC sent a three-person delegation to meet Monday with U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, far smaller than the usual 10-15 person delegation that has met with him repeatedly in on-and-off talks since February that have made no tangible progress. No major HNC leaders were among the three.

The group postponed a planned news conference until Tuesday. A Syrian government delegation met with de Mistura earlier on Monday.

— Jamey Keaten in Geneva

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4:50 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says a rocket fired from Syria has killed one person and wounded a second in a border town.

The Anadolu Agency says the rocket exploded near a middle school in the town of Kilis on Monday, wounding a Syrian shepherd and a 14-year-old boy.

Anadolu said the Syrian man died of his wounds in a hospital. The school has been evacuated.

Earlier, two other rockets fired from Syria hit an olive grove and a building used as a storage center for hospital oxygen units, but there were no casualties.

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4:00 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says two rockets fired from Syria have struck an olive grove and a building used to store hospital oxygen units in southern Turkey. No casualties were reported.

Anadolu Agency says the rockets struck the border town of Kilis on Monday. Police increased security in the area surrounding the state hospital.

Kilis witnessed an almost daily salvo of rockets fired from Islamic State-controlled territory last week, which killed one person and wounded several others.

Turkey's military systematically retaliates for rockets or shells that land on Turkish territory in line with its rules of engagement.

The defense minister said last week that Turkish retaliatory strikes against the rockets and shells fired into Turkey have killed 362 militants and wounded 123 others so far this year

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3:30 p.m.

A Syrian government envoy to Geneva peace talks says unspecified new "ideas" were floated in his latest meeting with a U.N. mediator, while using most of his public comments to decry Israel's cabinet meeting in the Golan Heights.

Syria's U.N. ambassador Bashar Ja'afari also criticized statements from rebel fighters that he claimed had called for a "revocation of the cessation of hostilities." Rebel groups announced that they had attacked Latakia province, a Syrian government stronghold, in retaliation for violations of a fragile cease-fire that began in late February.

Speaking to reporters but taking no questions, Ja'afari criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's decision to host a Cabinet meeting in the Golan on Sunday. Israel captured the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Mideast war and annexed it in 1981. Netanyahu said on Sunday that the international community should recognize that "the Golan will forever remain under Israeli sovereignty."

Ja'afari said he would next meet U.N envoy Staffan de Mistura on Wednesday. De Mistura was meeting with the opposition later Monday.

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3:15 p.m.

Russia has called for direct talks between the Syrian government and the opposition.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters in Moscow on Monday that direct talks between the government and a broad opposition delegation should be launched as part of the Geneva talks.

He also denied allegations that Moscow and Washington were negotiating the departure of Syrian President Bashar Assad behind closed doors.

The talks in Geneva, which resumed last week, have until now been indirect, with a U.N. envoy shuffling between the two delegations.

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2:30 p.m.

Syrian activists and rebels say opposition fighters have launched a new offensive against government forces in a number of areas in the country's northwest.

Rebels groups said in a statement Monday that the attacks in rural parts of the Latakia province, a government stronghold, are in retaliation for violations of a fragile cease-fire that began in late February.

Other fighters attacked government positions in the rural part of the adjacent Hama province.

The U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire had reduced violence across Syria despite alleged violations on both sides. The opposition says the government has breached the agreement more than 2,000 times.

The cease-fire was intended to facilitate talks in Geneva, which resumed last week. A Syrian opposition member in Geneva, Mohammed al-Abboud, says they have the right to defend themselves.