The Latest: Turkey defends fight against Syrian Kurd rebels

AP News
Posted: Oct 21, 2016 12:06 PM
The Latest: Turkey defends fight against Syrian Kurd rebels

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria where a Russia-announced pause in the fighting is underway to allow civilians and rebels to leave besieged areas of Aleppo (all times local):

6:53 p.m.

Turkey's prime minister has rebuffed criticism of operations against Syrian Kurdish fighters and says they will continue.

Binali Yildirim said Friday that "what anybody says regarding our fight against terrorist organizations is irrelevant." He added that Turkey would continue doing "whatever is necessary" to ensure its own safety.

Turkish jets attacked targets Syrian Kurdish militia targets north of Aleppo late Wednesday. Turkey regards the group an extension of its own outlawed Kurdish militant group, but the U.S. considers it the most effective force in the fight against the IS group — a stance Yildirim labelled "a grave mistake."

Yildirim also said U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter confirmed during their meeting earlier Friday that allied Syrian Kurdish fighters would withdraw east of the Euphrates River as promised.


6:09 p.m.

The U.N.'s Human Rights Council has passed a resolution calling for enhanced investigation of rights violations and abuses in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, a measure aimed to put pressure on Russia.

The council voted 24-7, with 16 abstentions, on the measure at a special council session Friday on the "deteriorating situation of human rights" in Syria and in Aleppo, a city that has recently faced an onslaught by Russian and Syrian airpower.

The resolution largely reiterated previous council resolutions on Syria, but calls on the Commission of Inquiry on Syria to specifically investigate crimes in Aleppo and report back to the 47-member body.

Britain spearheaded the resolution to put pressure on Russia.

Five amendments proposed by Russia were rejected. Algeria, Bolivia, Burundi, China, Cuba and Venezuela joined Russia voting against the measure.


6 p.m.

The Russian military says a break in fighting in Aleppo has been extended for a third day.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi said the day-to-dusk "humanitarian pause" that began Thursday will be extended for another day on President Vladimir Putin's instructions.

The U.N. said it received verbal assurances for the extension of the break until Monday, but the Kremlin didn't confirm that Friday, saying it was possible if militants don't abuse it.

The pause in the fighting in Aleppo is part of a humanitarian cease-fire announced by Russia in the contested city to allow for the evacuation of civilians and fighters. Rebels have rejected the offer to evacuate.

Rudskoi on Friday accused militants of firing at humanitarian corridors and using the break to prepare for an offensive.


5:30 p.m.

A Syria monitoring group and a senior Kurdish commander say Turkish forces have kept up their bombing of areas controlled by Kurdish-led forces in northern Syria for the third straight day.

Commander Mahmoud Barkhadan of the main Syrian Kurdish militia, the People's Protection Units, or YPG, told The Associated Press that there were no airstrikes on Friday, but artillery and rockets continue to strike their areas in northern Aleppo. He said one fighter was killed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Turkish forces fired more than 70 rockets in the area.

Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency, citing military officials, said the Turkish military bombed six targets of the Syrian Kurdish militia from the ground.

For two days, Turkish jets raided several Syrian villages held by Kurdish forces, where Kurdish forces and Turkish-backed Syrian rebels are jostling for territory once held by the Islamic State group.


4:05 p.m.

Save the Children is reporting widespread use of cluster bombs recently in besieged rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The international group said Friday that despite humanitarian pauses in the northern city, there are concerns that there are an increased number of children already injured by cluster bombs who may be too unwell to leave or untreatable in the existing medical facilities.

In its Friday report, Save the Children quoted The Violations Documentation Center, a Syrian group that tracks human rights violations, as recording 137 cluster bomb attacks in Aleppo from Sept. 10 to Oct. 10.

It said the attacks are a 791 percent increase on the average of the previous eight months.

Across Syria, they reported that 130 children have been killed due to cluster bombs in the past year.


4 p.m.

Syria's ambassador in Geneva says the "human suffering in Aleppo is not an emergency" and has lashed out at "propaganda" by Britain and other countries, alleging that they have armed al-Qaida-backed fighters in Syria.

Ambassador Hussam Edin Aala spoke during a special session of the U.N.-backed Human Rights Council, where Britain and allies are leading a push for a resolution that would call for a stepped-up U.N. investigation on rights abuses and a halt to air strikes in Aleppo.

According to a translation of his remarks Friday, the ambassador insisted the suffering in Aleppo dates to mid-2012 when the city was "attacked by thousands of terrorists from (al-Qaida-linked) Al-Nusra, Ahrar al-Sham and other terrorist groups."

British ambassador Julian Braithwaite retorted that Britain "is not supplying weapons to anyone in Syria."


3:15 p.m.

A U.N. official says Syrian opposition fighters are blocking medical evacuations from Aleppo because the government and Russia are impeding deliveries of medical and humanitarian supplies into the city.

The official made the comments to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the United Nations was expected to make an official statement about the hold-up in medical evacuations later on Friday.

The official said intense efforts were under way in Damascus, Aleppo, Geneva and Gaziantep, Turkey, to try to move forward on the evacuations.

The U.N. humanitarian aid agency told reporters in Geneva earlier that planned medical evacuations from Aleppo had not started as planned Friday because of a lack of security assurances from the warring sides. But it did not elaborate, citing only an "astronomically difficult situation."

—Jamey Keaten in Geneva


1:55 p.m.

Serbia insists that its decision to send aid to Syria, with Russia's help, is purely a humanitarian gesture and not a sign of taking sides in the conflict.

A Russian plane carrying Serbian aid of food, medicine and clothes departed for Syria late Thursday. Some analysts have warned the move could complicate Serbia's standing in the West amid strained relations with Moscow on Syria.

Labor minister Aleksandar Vulin said on Friday that "humanitarian issues are often viewed as if other intentions and motives are behind them."

He says the "aid is for people in Aleppo, I don't know if they support (Syrian President Bashar) Assad or not, but we know they need help."

Serbia is seeking EU membership but also has remained close to traditional Slavic ally Russia.


1:35 p.m.

Russia's foreign minister says al-Qaida-linked militants in Aleppo are refusing to leave the besieged Syrian city along humanitarian corridors created by the Russians and Syrian forces.

Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Friday that Russia is "seriously concerned that, despite the gestures of goodwill from Moscow and Damascus," the fighters from the al-Qaida affiliate previously known as the Nusra Front are "refusing to leave the city."

Lavrov says Aleppo's civilians are also being prevented from leaving the eastern, rebel-held part of the city through the corridors. A pause in the Aleppo fighting was announced this week by Russia to allow civilians and opposition fighters and militants in eastern Aleppo to leave.

Rebels have rejected the offer, saying it isn't serious. Residents have said they fear being arrested by government forces if they evacuate.


1:30 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian aid agency says planned medical evacuations from the Syrian city of Aleppo have not begun as planned because of a lack of security assurances from the warring sides.

OCHA spokesman Jens Laerke declined to specify who was responsible for the breakdown in the plans on Friday. The evacuations were announced a day earlier with great hopes by U.N. officials.

Laerke only noted an "astronomically difficult situation." He spoke to reporters in Geneva.

He says that the evacuations couldn't begin "because the necessary conditions were not in place to ensure safe, secure and voluntary" movement of people.

On Thursday, U.N. humanitarian aid official Jan Egeland said the U.N. had received the "green lights" for the evacuations from Syria's government, armed opposition groups and Russia, which announced a pause in fighting in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.


11:45 a.m.

The U.N. human rights chief says the Syrian city of Aleppo is "a slaughterhouse" and is urging the Human Rights Council to set aside "political disagreements" to focus on suffering civilians.

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein delivered the stark remarks in an address by videoconference to the 47-member U.N.-backed rights body on Friday as it opened a special session on Aleppo called by Britain and others over the crisis in the city.

Zeid, a Jordanian prince, says rights violations and abuses in Syria, in rebel-held eastern Aleppo and beyond "constitute crimes of historic proportions."

He said the "collective failure of the international community to protect civilians and halt this bloodshed should haunt every one of us."

The council was expected to vote later in the day on a resolution that would call for increased monitoring of crimes in Aleppo.


11:30 a.m.

The Syrian government has opened a corridor for rebels and civilians who want to leave the besieged eastern neighborhoods of the city of Aleppo.

Residents in the besieged area have said many won't go since there are no guarantees that evacuees won't be arrested by government forces.

The pan-Arab Al-Mayadeen TV aired live footage on Friday from the Castello Road in Aleppo. It shows bulldozers have opened the road and buses and ambulances are parked on the roadside to take evacuees.

The pause in Aleppo fighting was announced by Russia to allow for the evacuation of civilians and fighters, as well as the wounded. Rebels have rejected the offer, saying it isn't serious.

Before the pause, Aleppo's besieged districts were subjected to relentless Syrian and Russian airstrikes for weeks.