The Latest: UN body calls for action in Syria's Aleppo

AP News
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Posted: Aug 16, 2016 1:49 PM
The Latest: UN body calls for action in Syria's Aleppo

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the developments in Syria's civil war after Russian warplanes took off on Tuesday from Iran to bomb Islamic State militants in Syria (all times local):

9 p.m.

A United Nations commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria is calling the situation in Aleppo's rebel-held east "critical" and demanding immediate action to protect civilians living there, including a reported 100,000 children.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq says the Commission of Inquiry reported Tuesday that government forces are bombing opposition neighborhoods in Aleppo on a daily basis, causing massive civilian casualties.

The commission also reported that since January more than 25 hospitals and clinics have been destroyed in aerial attacks.

The commission, established by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2011, said that if humanitarian corridors are established to deliver desperately needed aid they must comply with international law.

Haq says the warring parties also have a legal obligation not to attack civilians and civilian targets.

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7:30 p.m.

A U.S. official says the Russian bombers that used an Iranian air base to attack militants in Syria have returned to Russia and that no Russian forces are stationed in Iran.

The official was not authorized to speak to reporters about the matter so spoke on condition of anonymity.

U.S. officials say Washington was aware that Russia had talked about the possibility of flying planes out of Iran since late last year. But Moscow's decision to do so on Tuesday came as a surprise.

Russia has been carrying out airstrikes to bolster Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces for nearly a year, but until now they had flown all their missions from either Syria or Russia.

— Lolita C. Baldor in Washington

7 p.m.

U.S. officials say the setup at the Iranian air base used by Russian bombers to strike militants in Syria was established very quickly, perhaps overnight.

One military official says the Russians flew four Tu-22 Backfire bombers to the Iranian air base along with a Russian cargo plane loaded with the munitions for the bombers just hours before the missions.

U.S. officials say Washington was aware that Russia had talked about the possibility of flying planes out of Iran since late last year. But Moscow's decision to do so on Tuesday came as a surprise.

That raises questions about whether the move was a strategic necessity or a political message from the Kremlin to Washington.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss diplomacy in public.

— Robert Burns in Washington

6:45 p.m.

Col. Christopher Garver, a U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, tells reporters at the Pentagon that the Russians activated a communications link with coalition officials just ahead of the bomber mission.

"The Russians did notify the coalition," he said, adding that they "informed us they were coming through" airspace that could potentially put them in proximity of U.S. and coalition aircraft in Iraq or Syria. Asked how much advance notice the Russians gave the U.S., Garver said, "We did know in time" to maintain safety of flight. "It's not a lot of time, but it's enough" to maintain safety in the airspace over Iraq and Syria, he said.

Garver says the Russian bomber flights did not affect U.S. coalition air operations.

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6:30 p.m.

Syrian opposition monitoring groups say an airstrike on the eastern city of Deir el-Zour has killed 10 people.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees say Tuesday's strike hit a bakery in a neighborhood held by the Islamic State group.

The LCC said the airstrike was carried out by Russian warplanes, while the Observatory did not say who was behind it.

Russia's Defense Ministry said earlier that Russian warplanes took off on Tuesday from a base in Iran to target IS and other militants in Syria.

The ministry said that Su-34 and Tu-22M3 bombers targeted IS and the Nusra Front in Aleppo, Idlib and Deir el-Zour.

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2:40 p.m.

Syrian opposition monitoring groups are reporting that a wave of airstrikes on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo have killed at least 15 civilians and wounded many others.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the airstrikes killed at least 19 civilians, including three children, in two neighborhoods.

The Local Coordination Committees says 15 civilians were killed.

The LCC says the warplanes that carried out the airstrikes Tuesday were Russian, while the Observatory says it was not immediately clear.

The Observatory says Russian airstrikes on the southern edge of Aleppo, targeting the route leading into eastern rebel-held parts of the city, killed 12 militants Tuesday.

Aleppo, Syria's largest city, has been the center of fighting over the past months. The city has been contested since 2012.

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1:50 p.m.

Iran's Shahid Nojeh Air Base, from where Russian aircraft likely took off to bomb Syria in the latest airstrikes by Moscow, has seen Russian aircraft land there before.

A report in December by the American Enterprise Institute, based off satellite imagery, suggests the air base saw a Russian Su-34 "Fullback" strike fighter land there in late November. It said a Russian Il-76 "Candid" transport plane also landed there around the same time before both took off, suggesting the Su-34 may have suffered a mechanical issue.

The report described the air base as "quite large with a 15,000-foot (4,572-meter) runway, extensive taxiways and multiple hangars and bunkers — all seemingly in good repair."

The report says it's "ideal for providing covert ground support to Russian combat missions."

Russia's Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Russian warplanes have taken off from a base in Iran to target Islamic State fighters in Syria.

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1:45 p.m.

A senior Syrian opposition official says the latest Russian airstrikes in Syria, with warplanes taking off from Iran, aims to show Moscow internationally as "a power with teeth."

George Sabra of the High Negotiations Committee told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Russia is proving it's not qualified to play any role in attempts to end Syria's five-year war.

Sabra says Moscow took advantage of the vacuum left behind by the West in the Middle East and is using Syria to show that Moscow has goals "not only in Syria but in the region and internationally as well."

Russian warplanes took off on Tuesday from a base in Iran to target Islamic State fighters and other militants in Syria, according to Russia's Defense Ministry.

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1:25 p.m.

An international rights group says the joint Syrian government and Russian military operation has been using incendiary weapons in civilian areas in northern Syria in violation of international law.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Tuesday that the munitions, which can cause excruciating and often fatal burns, have been used at least 18 times over the past six weeks.

Moscow has denied using such weapons in Syria.

Steve Goose, arms director at HRW, says the "Syrian government and Russia should immediately stop attacking civilian areas with incendiary weapons."

HRW says a review of photographs and videos recorded at the time of attack and of the remnants afterward indicates there were at least 18 such attacks in Aleppo and Idlib between June 5 and August 10.

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1:10 p.m.

A top Russian lawmaker says Russia's decision to use a base in Iran for its operation against Islamic State fighters in Syria will help to cut costs.

Before, Moscow only used facilities in Russia and in the government-controlled areas in Syria for its missions in the Arab country.

The Interfax news agency on Tuesday quoted Adm. Vladimir Komoyedov, former commander of the Black Sea fleet and a State Duma Deputy, as saying that using facilities in Iran is a good way for Russia to cut costs.

He is quoted as saying that "the issue of costs for combat actions is paramount right now, we should stick to the current defense ministry budget."

Komoyedov also says "Tu-22 flights from Iran means less fuel and a bigger bomb load" but the downside of taking off from a base in Syria is that warplanes have to fly over the combat zone.

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12:50 p.m.

In a first, Iran has allowed Russia to use one of its bases to stage and take off for attacks inside Syria — something unheard of in modern times in the Islamic Republic.

Iran's constitution, ratified after its 1979 Islamic Revolution, bans the establishment of any foreign military base in the country. However, nothing bars Iranian officials from allowing foreign countries to use an airfield.

In Tehran, the state-run IRNA news agency quoted Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, as saying on Tuesday that Tehran and Moscow have exchanged "capacity and possibilities" in the fight against the Islamic State group.

Shamkhahi says: "With constructive and extended cooperation between Iran, Russia and Syria and the resistance front (Hezbollah), the situation has become very tough for terrorists and the trend will continue until the complete destruction of them."

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11:50 a.m.

Russia's Defense Ministry says that Russian warplanes have taken off from a base in Iran to target Islamic State fighters in Syria.

Tuesday's announcement marks a major development in the efforts against the Sunni militant group. Russia has never used the territory of another country in the Middle East — except Syria — for its operations inside Syria before this.

The ministry's statement says Su-34 and Tu-22M3 bombers took off earlier in the day to target Islamic State and the Nusra Front militants in Aleppo, as well as in Deir el-Zour and Idlib, destroying five major ammunition depots, training camps and three command posts.

Russia and Iran have been expanding their ties in the past months after most of the sanctions against Iran were lifted.