The Latest: UN aid chief describes 'carnage' in Aleppo

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Posted: May 04, 2016 3:40 PM
The Latest: UN aid chief describes 'carnage' in Aleppo

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Latest on Syria's civil war (all times local):

10:40 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian chief has told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that hundreds of civilians have been killed or injured in indiscriminate attacks over the past 10 days in "the carnage in Aleppo."

Stephen O'Brien said Wednesday that life in the northern Syrian city "is horrendous and has lost all sense," blaming all parties for the death and destruction.

He expressed hope that the U.S.-Russia agreement on a cessation of hostilities in Aleppo, the country's largest city before the war, "can be implemented in full."

O'Brien said roughly 300,000 people in eastern Aleppo are living in constant fear of aerial attacks and the estimated 1.3 million in the west are crowding into basements to escape shelling and mortar rounds.

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10:15 p.m.

The U.N. political chief has told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council that the Syrian government's bombing campaign in Aleppo over the last two weeks is among "the worst" of the five-year war.

Jeffrey Feltman demanded that perpetrators be brought to justice at the International Criminal Court.

He says the U.N. took note of the recent announcement that the United States and Russia agreed to extend a cease-fire between the Syrian government and rebels to Aleppo.

He says the U.N. urges all parties "to abide by this immediately and comprehensively," noting that "implementation has proven challenging even as it has led to an overall decrease in violence."

Feltman says Aleppo has been subject to "systematic destruction," including from opposition shelling of government-controlled neighborhoods, and that the violence and killing must stop.

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10:00 p.m.

Syria's military has confirmed a 48-hour cease-fire in the northern city of Aleppo after U.S. officials announced an agreement had been reached with Russia.

A statement by the Syrian Armed Forces aired on Ikhbariya TV says the cease-fire will begin at 01:00 a.m. Thursday (2200 GMT Wednesday). It did not elaborate.

The announcement was slightly different than the one that came from U.S. officials, who said that the United States and Russia have persuaded Syria's government and moderate rebels to extend a fragile truce to Aleppo.

They said the agreement was reached late Tuesday and took effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday (2101 GMT Tuesday).

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9:45 p.m.

Germany's foreign minister has welcomed the U.S.-Russian agreement to extend Syria's fragile cease-fire to the country's biggest city, Aleppo.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier called for President Bashar Assad's government and all armed groups to respect the cease-fire in full and give the people of Aleppo "a respite from war and violence."

Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault held meetings earlier Wednesday with U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura and Syrian opposition leader Riad Hijab, part of diplomatic efforts to help shore up the cease-fire after days of fighting in Aleppo.

Steinmeier said in a statement that "if the cease-fire is kept to, that will be far more than a major relief for people in Aleppo." He said it would be an "important basis" for resuming peace talks in Geneva.

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8:15 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria says the alternative to a cease-fire in Aleppo is "catastrophic," raising the possibility that 400,000 people could head for the Turkish border.

Staffan de Mistura said after meeting the German and French foreign ministers in Berlin on Wednesday that Syrians say they need a cease-fire restored. He says "the test is Aleppo now."

He added that "the alternative is truly quite catastrophic, because we could see 400,000 people moving toward the Turkish border."

U.S. officials said earlier Wednesday that Washington had agreed with Moscow to expand a fragile cease-fire to the northern city of Aleppo, where violence has escalated in recent days and where sporadic fighting continues.

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8:00 p.m.

The commander of Jordan's Border Guard Forces says the number of Syrian refugees gathered in remote desert areas on the Jordanian border and waiting to enter has risen to a new high of 59,000.

Gen. Saber al-Mahayreh said Wednesday that about 5,000 Syrians arrived in just the last three days, fleeing fighting in the city of Aleppo.

International aid organizations say Jordan must speed up refugee entry procedures because of dire conditions, including inadequate shelter, along the border.

Aid officials note that a U.N.-run camp in Jordan stands largely empty and could accommodate tens of thousands more refugees.

Jordan says refugees pose a potential security risk, with some coming from areas controlled by the extremist Islamic State group, and need to be vetted carefully.

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7:45 p.m.

U.S. officials say an agreement has been reached with Russia to extend Syria's fragile cease-fire to the northern city of Aleppo, where violence has escalated in recent days.

The officials say a formal announcement of the deal is expected later Wednesday. The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, say the agreement was reached late Tuesday and took effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday Damascus time.

The officials say they have seen a decrease in violence since then but acknowledge that violations persist in some areas. The agreement on Aleppo follows an earlier deal to reaffirm the truce in the Damascus suburbs and coastal Latakia province.

— Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper

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6:30 p.m.

France's foreign minister says President Bashar Assad's government bears full responsibility for the violence in Syria's Aleppo and everything must be done to restore a cease-fire.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, who was in Berlin Wednesday for meetings with his German counterpart, the U.N. envoy for Syria and a Syrian opposition leader, says "strong actions" will be needed to revive peace negotiations.

He added that "those who can exert pressure on Bashar Assad's regime must do it and do it quickly."

Violence in Syria's biggest city has been escalating for nearly two weeks despite intense diplomatic efforts to revive the limited cease-fire that began in late February.

Ayrault said it is "a terrible drama ... in which the regime in Damascus bears the entire responsibility for what is happening — the threatening of the cease-fire."

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5:45 p.m.

The German and French foreign ministers are meeting the U.N. envoy for Syria for talks aimed at expanding a limited cease-fire and getting the stalled peace process back on track.

Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier invited French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault and the U.N.'s Staffan de Mistura to a meeting Wednesday at a government guest house in Berlin. Steinmeier also met Riad Hijab — the head of the Higher Negotiations Committee, the Syrian opposition coalition.

The meetings are part of a flurry of diplomacy as officials scramble to restore a limited U.S. and Russian-brokered cease-fire that began in late February.

Steinmeier says it's important, "based on the realization that there are no military solutions to this conflict, to find a way back to Geneva to the political negotiations."

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5:15 p.m.

The Russian military says it has withdrawn about 30 aircraft from its base in Syria, including all of the Su-25 ground attack planes stationed there.

Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov gave no details Wednesday about how many aircraft remained, saying only that it was precisely the number necessary for fighting the Islamic State group and the Syrian al-Qaida affiliate known as the Nusra Front.

President Vladimir Putin in March ordered the withdrawal of most of Russia's forces from Syria, without specifying how many aircraft would be pulled out or how many would remain.

Russia had deployed more than 50 jets and helicopters to its Hemeimeem air base on Syria's coast. The air campaign, which began Sept. 30, allowed Syrian President Bashar Assad's army to win back some key ground.

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4:30 p.m.

A supervisor of U.N. aid says a surge in fighting in Syria, particularly in Aleppo, "is creating new areas with endless suffering" that aid providers can't reach.

Jan Egeland, who leads a task force on humanitarian aid in Syria, said in Geneva on Wednesday that there were "new possible besieged areas," and that hundreds of relief workers could not operate in the northern city of Aleppo, where "the population is bleeding."

At the same time, he said aid officials have made "real progress" in reaching besieged areas specified at a meeting in Munich in February that set off a drive for better access.

Egeland said nothing is more important than ending the fighting. He said Russian and U.S. efforts "couldn't be more important but we don't need declarations, we need ... an end to fighting."

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11:45 a.m.

Syrian state media say three people have been killed in renewed rebel shelling of government-held areas in the deeply contested northern city of Aleppo.

State TV says that also on Wednesday, government troops repelled a rebel attack on an Aleppo suburb controlled by the government.

Pro-opposition activists confirmed the report, adding that government forces regained control of a former mall that had become a new front line with rebel fighters in the western part of the city.

Aleppo, Syria's former commercial center and its largest city, has been at the center of the conflict for the past two weeks, shattering a limited cease-fire that began in late February.

Diplomatic efforts are underway to stop the escalating violence that has killed nearly 300 people there since April 22.