The Latest: Assad says Aleppo battle changes course of war

AP News
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Posted: Dec 07, 2016 4:03 PM
The Latest: Assad says Aleppo battle changes course of war

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

10:45 P.M.

Syrian President Bashar Assad says the battle for Aleppo will change the course of the Syrian war.

Speaking to the state newspaper Al-Watan on Wednesday, Assad said a U.S. call for an Aleppo cease-fire betrayed the losing position of the country's opposition forces, which have enjoyed U.S. verbal support.

"You hear crying and lamenting" for a truce, Assad said. He said humanitarian concerns were being voiced to slow the government's war efforts.

Assad did not directly address a rebel cease-fire proposal for war-torn Aleppo, where pro-government forces have seized most of its rebel enclave in a ferocious, two-week ground assault. The advance has displaced tens of thousands of civilians, according to the U.N.

"The decision to liberate all of Syria has been taken, and that includes Aleppo," he said.

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7:45 p.m.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations acknowledges that diplomacy has failed the people of Aleppo — but says Russia is largely at fault for blocking humanitarian aid and cease-fire efforts.

Samantha Power told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Russia's veto this week of a U.N. resolution calling for a seven-day truce was "very disappointing."

"Diplomacy has not delivered for the people of Aleppo," she said. "It is not us that walked away from diplomacy. It is Syria and the Russian Federation."

Despite past joint U.S.-Russian deals seeking solutions for Syria, she said, "all that has happened in that period is that no food has arrived. No medical evacuations have occurred from eastern Aleppo. And the regime backed by Russia has pulverized schools, hospitals, civilian neighborhoods."

Russia argues that its warplanes are targeting Islamic State extremists. But Power said current international military efforts against terrorism are like playing "whack-a-mole."

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6:30 p.m.

Syria's state news agency is reporting that 12 people have been killed by rebel shelling of government-controlled parts of Aleppo city.

The agency quoting an unnamed police official says 64 were also injured Wednesday, including some in critical condition, after rockets fell on at least four different neighborhoods in government-held Aleppo.

Rebel fire intensified on government-controlled areas in Aleppo as the Syrian military and allied militias pushed their way into areas controlled by the rebels in recent days. The police official said the rockets also caused extensive damage to buildings and cars parked on the streets.

Rebels have proposed a cease-fire, but the ground has offensive continued — leaving the Syrian government in control of most of the enclave controlled by the opposition since 2012.

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5:30 p.m.

A Syrian General says the embattled rebels in eastern Aleppo must leave the enclave or they will face death.

Brig. Gen. Zeid al-Saleh, the head of the security committee in Aleppo city, was speaking to state TV Wednesday from newly captured areas in Aleppo.

He didn't directly address the rebel proposal for a cease-fire issued earlier in the day. His comments came as government troops and allied militias kept up their advances south of Aleppo's ancient quarters.

In a statement Tuesday, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said it will not approve any cease-fire initiative that doesn't include rebel evacuation from eastern Aleppo. The rebels only call for evacuation of wounded and those civilians who wish to leave.

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5:15 p.m.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg says Syria's new military offensive backed by Russia is the main reason that so many people, including Russians, are dying in the besieged city of Aleppo.

Stoltenberg said Wednesday that, "the best way to end that is to support efforts to have a cease-fire as a first step toward a political solution."

Asked to comment on the deaths of two nurses at a makeshift Russian military hospital in Aleppo this week, Stoltenberg said "the situation in Aleppo is very, very difficult. It is a humanitarian catastrophe."

He said "the main reason is the renewed offensive by the Syrian regime, supported by Russia."

Russia's Defense Ministry says a Russian colonel working as a military adviser in the government-controlled part of Aleppo also died in rebel shelling.

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4:30 p.m.

Syrian media and an opposition monitoring group say government troops and allied militias have continued to advance in eastern Aleppo, pushing their way south of the ancient quarters of the city.

Syrian State TV showed footage Wednesday of hundreds of men, women and children trickling out of the Bab al-Nairab neighborhood, which lies south of the old city of Aleppo and had been held by rebels. The announcer said government and allied forces now control the district, which lies along the airport road and houses one of the city's main water stations.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government troops captured large swaths of the district following intense clashes. The Observatory said the troops are continuing their push south.

Rebel fighters had proposed a cease-fire.

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1:05 p.m.

Syrian rebel factions are proposing a five-day cease-fire for the evacuation of the sick and other civilians from the eastern part of the city of Aleppo.

The rebel proposal on Wednesday comes as Syrian government and allied forces have gained control of three-quarters of the enclave that the rebels had controlled since 2012.

The proposal made no mention of a rebel surrender or pullout.

The government's ground offensive was preceded by an intensive bombing campaign that knocked out medical facilities and left the civilian population in eastern Aleppo reeling from the onslaught.

The proposal calls for the immediate evacuation of 500 seriously wounded Aleppo residents and for allowing civilians wishing to leave to head to northern rural Aleppo province, where there is almost no government presence.

Capt. Abdel-Salam Abdel-Razek of the rebel Nour el-Din el-Zinki faction says the future of the city of Aleppo is to be negotiated during this humanitarian pause, which the rebels want the United Nations to monitor.

There was no immediate response from Damascus on the proposal.

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12:45 p.m.

The Syrian government says Israel has launched several surface-to-surface missiles that hit near a military airport west of Damascus, triggering a fire.

The official news agency SANA says the missiles were launched early on Wednesday from inside the "occupied territories" and fell within the perimeter of the Mezzeh military airport on the western edge of the capital. It added that no injuries were report.

It was the second such Israeli strike into Syria recently, according to the Syrian government.

Last week, SANA said Israeli jets fired two missiles from Lebanese airspace toward the outskirts of Damascus, in the Sabboura area.

The Israeli military declined to comment on that incident, and there was no immediate comment on Wednesday's attack.

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10:10 a.m.

Syria's state media and an opposition monitoring group say that Syrian troops and their allies have captured more ground in Aleppo's Old City, gaining a new hold in the heart of the divided city.

The state SANA news agency says that the Syrian forces in the early hours of Wednesday morning established control over two districts north of the ancient Citadel in the heart of the city — the Aghiour and Bab al-Hadid neighborhoods.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the new gains have choked the rebels, forcing them to pull back to other parts of the Old City.

There was no immediate opposition comment on the loss, which widens government control over the enclave that has been in rebel hands since 2012. On Tuesday before the new gains, Syria's military said it controlled 73 percent of eastern Aleppo, the rebel enclave.

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10:05 a.m.

The Russian defense ministry says a Russian colonel who worked as a military adviser in the government-controlled part of the Syrian city of Aleppo has died in rebel shelling.

The fatality marks Russia's third casualty this week, after two nurses were killed in a rocket attack on a makeshift Russian military hospital in Aleppo.

The ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that Col. Ruslan Galitsky was wounded in rebel shelling of a government-controlled neighborhood several days earlier and has died of wounds.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have rejected a cease-fire for the war-torn city, keeping up the military offensive amid rebel retreats and massive displacement of Aleppo civilians.