The Latest: US to press on for transition to end Syria war

AP News
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Posted: Apr 19, 2016 2:37 PM
The Latest: US to press on for transition to end Syria war

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria as escalating violence in the north has prompted opposition representatives to suspend participation in U.N.-sponsored peace talks (all times local):

9:40 p.m.

The White House says it will continue to push for a political transition to end Syria's civil war.

Spokesman Josh Earnest says the "terrible situation" there was caused by the failed leadership of President Bashar Assad. Earnest says the U.S. will continue to push both sides in the conflict to participate in a U.N.-led process to bring about the desired political transition.

Earnest is calling on Russia to use its influence with Assad to force Syria to honor the terms of a cease-fire agreement that has all but collapsed.

In Geneva, where the U.N.-sponsored talks were being held, the leader of the opposition coalition says it can't participate in talks while the Syrian regime continues its military campaign.

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8:10 p.m.

A Syrian opposition coalition says President Bashar Assad's government is responsible for the airstrikes on rebel-held towns that killed 44 civilians earlier in the day.

Salem Meslet, official spokesman of the Western-backed Syrian High Negotiations Committee, says the deadly strikes validate the coalition's decision to suspend its participation in peace talks with the government in Geneva.

Meslet says that "Assad is telling the world he has no interest in diplomacy for peace." He also called the strikes a "massacre of innocents."

Riad Hijab, head of the HNC, accused the international community of failing to protect civilians from pro-government forces earlier on Tuesday.

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7:50 p.m.

The Danish parliament has approved the government's plan to send combat planes and special forces to join a U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq.

The Danish contribution will consist of up to seven F-16 fighter jets, one C-130 transport plane and about 400 personnel, including 60 from the special forces.

Denmark's TV2 says the vote was formally approved by lawmakers on Tuesday in a 90-19 vote.

Danish warplanes have previously participated in airstrikes on IS forces in Iraq, but not Syria. Those planes were brought back for repairs last year.

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6:30 p.m.

Syrian activists say airstrikes targeting two opposition-held towns in northwestern Syria have killed 44 civilians.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there were three children among the victims in Tuesday's airstrikes. The Observatory says it expects the death toll to rise further.

The group says the towns hit are Maarat al-Numan and Kafranbel in Idlib province. Rallies against both extremists and President Bashar Assad's government have frequently taken place in the towns during the five-year civil war.

Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, says the strikes on Maarat al-Numan hit the town's market place. It says images of the aftermath show widespread destruction.

Observatory's chief Rami Abdurrahman says the strikes are among the deadliest since a cease-fire took effect in Syria at the end of February.

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5:40 p.m.

Turkey's state run news agency has raised the toll of wounded from a round of rockets that hit southern Turkey, saying three people were hurt.

The Anadolu Agency said Tuesday that three missiles hit the roof of a house, sparking a fire, the bathroom of a mosque and a graveyard in Kilis. On Monday, a similar barrage of rockets hit the border town, causing the death of five Syrians, including four children.

Syrian refugees outnumber locals in Kilis, a town that is being hammered by projectiles fired from its war-torn neighbor.

The wider province of Kilis borders areas in Syria held by Syrian anti-government rebels, Kurdish factions, and Islamic State group militants.

In the wake of such attacks, the Turkish military typically fires back at targets in Syria in line with its rules of engagement.

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5:30 p.m.

The Syrian opposition chief negotiator Mohammed Alloush says he is leaving Geneva because he does not want to be part of an "absurd" political solution that realizes no lasting resolution to the conflict.

Alloush said on Tuesday that the talks in Geneva as they have been going will not lead to a "real transition" of power nor meet the aspirations of Syrians. He spoke in a recorded message sent to The Associated Press.

He says the opposition would return to direct talks once the Syrian government meets international resolutions including end the siege on rebel held areas, allowing aid in, releasing detainees, and ending airstrikes on civilians.

He says: "For how long will the world continue to see us as numbers only?"

The Syrian opposition said it is suspending its participation in indirect talks because of government violations of a cease-fire in place since late February.

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4 p.m.

Turkey's state run news agency says three rockets fired from Syria hit a town in southern Turkey, wounding two people.

The Anadolu Agency said Tuesday that the missiles hit the roof of a house, sparking a fire, the bathroom of a mosque and a graveyard in Kilis.

On Monday, a similar barrage of rockets hit the border town, causing the death of five Syrians, including four children.

Syrian refugees outnumber locals in Kilis, a town that is being hammered by projectiles fired from its war-torn neighbor.

The wider province of Kilis borders areas in Syria held by Syrian anti-government rebels, Kurdish factions, and Islamic State group militants.

In the wake of such attacks, the Turkish military typically fires back at targets in Syria in line with its rules of engagement.

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2:30 p.m.

Russia's ambassador to the international organizations in Geneva says extremists took control of the Syrian opposition group, effectively hijacking the Syrian peace talks.

Alexei Borodavkin told the Russian Tass news agency on Tuesday that "the suspension of the Syrian opposition delegation's participation in peace talks is proof that, unfortunately, extremists took control within the delegation."

Borodavkin said the talks will continue without the groups who pulled out, implying that the extremists were backed by Saudi Arabia, and saying that opposition groups "other than the 'Al Riyadh' groups, would still participate in the peace talks.

During the interview with Tass, the ambassador reaffirmed that Russia would continue to support the Syrian army's fight against the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front.

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2:15 p.m.

The head of the Syrian opposition negotiating team in Geneva has called for international monitors to observe a cessation of hostilities agreement that has been repeatedly violated, urging the U.N. Security Council to take firm actions against violators.

Riad Hijab is speaking in Geneva Tuesday, a day after his coalition said it is suspending its participation in the peace talks, which began last week, over government violations of a cease-fire.

Hijab complained that supplies and ammunition were denied to rebel forces during the truce period, which began in late February; meanwhile he said the Syrian government continued to receive aid from its allies. He said he hoped the U.S., a main backer of some rebel groups, would continue supplying weapons. He said: "We will fight no matter the circumstances. We will fight even with stones, and will not surrender."

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2 p.m.

Just hours before attending the official opening of the International Criminal Court's new headquarters, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has said that people responsible for atrocities in the Syrian civil war must face justice.

The ICC has not been able to file any charges linked to the devastating Syrian conflict because the country is not a member state and the United Nations Security Council has not exercised its power to call on the court to launch prosecutions.

Speaking to students in a Hague theater on Tuesday, Ban said the war "has been the scene of the use of chemical weapons, siege and starvation as a tool of war, unlawful detention, torture and indiscriminate and criminal shelling and aerial bombardment of civilians."

Those responsible, he says, "must be held to account."

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1:30 p.m.

The head of the Syrian opposition negotiating team in Geneva says his coalition requires a clear timetable for the political transition in Syria, which he says can't include the incumbent President Bashar Assad.

Riad Hijab is speaking in Geneva Tuesday, a day after his coalition said it is suspending its participation in the peace talks, which began last week, over government violations of a cease-fire.

Hijab said: "There cannot be a solution in Syria while Bashar Assad is present." He said his coalition can't continue with the talks in Geneva while fighting and suffering continued on the ground.

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1:15 p.m.

The Kremlin spokesman says Russia will continue to support further talks in Geneva.

During a conference call on Tuesday with journalists, Dmitry Peskov reaffirmed Russia's support for embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad and said Russia would continue to oppose terrorist groups.

Peskov would not confirm reports that President Putin had recently sent Assad a telegram.

According to Peskov, President Putin, when speaking to U.S. President Barack Obama yesterday, stressed the need to continue dialogue and maintain the current U.S.-Russia brokered ceasefire.

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12:45 a.m.

Syrian rebels and activists are reporting intensified fighting in the country's north and center, while a chief opposition negotiator says the conditions on the ground are not conducive to a political process.

The fighting in rural parts of the northern Latakia province, a government stronghold, and in the central Hama and Homs provinces Tuesday comes a day after the Syrian opposition said it is pausing its formal participation in the Geneva talks because of what it said were hundreds of government violations of a cease-fire agreement over two months.

Riad Hijab, the head of the Syrian opposition coalition, said on his Twitter account that government and allied forces target residential areas. He said conditions on the ground are not "conducive" to go on with the political talks.