The Latest: Kerry presses efforts to save Syria's Aleppo

AP News
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Posted: Dec 09, 2016 2:53 PM
The Latest: Kerry presses efforts to save Syria's Aleppo

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

9:45 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says he is persisting in efforts to "save the (Syrian) city of Aleppo from being absolutely, completely destroyed."

Speaking to reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Paris on Friday, the top American diplomat described Aleppo's catastrophe as the worst "since World War II itself."

He says the effort to broker a truce is "close" to some sort of breakthrough but acknowledged there's a lot of "arguing" and that the U.S. is "working hard with people that we even have disagreements with in order to see if we can find a way in the name of humanity and decency to ... move the process forward."

He says American diplomats will meet their Russian counterparts in Geneva on Saturday, and added that he hopes in the next days, the Syrian sides and peace mediators "can find some way to get to the table" and "have a serious discussion about how to end this war."

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9:30 p.m.

The 193-member U.N. General Assembly has adopted a resolution demanding an immediate end to attacks on civilians and all besieged areas in war-torn Syria.

The non-binding resolution passed on Friday by a vote of 122 to 13, with 36 abstentions.

The G.A. also expressed grave concern at the continued deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country and demanded "rapid, safe, sustained, unhindered and unconditional humanitarian access throughout the country for UN ... and all humanitarian actors."

The move comes just days after the Security Council failed to adopt a similar resolution demanding a cease-fire in Aleppo because China and Russia vetoed it.

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7:45 p.m.

The U.N.'s special envoy to Syria says a meeting on Saturday between Moscow and Washington is extremely important because it could result in avoiding "massive destruction" if a plan for the evacuation of rebel fighters and civilians from Aleppo can be worked out.

Staffan de Mistura said in an interview with The Associated Press at the United Nations on Friday that "the writing on the wall looks as if eastern Aleppo's battle is virtually over," and he hopes the meeting in Geneva will lead to an alternative to the bloodshed that would surely come with the last part of the battle for the city.

Hundreds of Syrian civilians streamed out on foot from the eastern part of Aleppo on Friday in the wake of the relentless campaign by Syrian government troops and allies including Russia to drive rebels from their rapidly crumbling enclave.

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3:10 p.m.

A Syrian opposition activist group says 49 Syrian soldiers have been killed in an advance by Islamic State militants near the historic city of Palmyra.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday that the Islamic State group advanced along several fronts around Palmyra in central Syria, driving back government forces.

The IS group's Aamaq News Agency distributed video showing what it says were Syrian soldiers fleeing their positions in the badlands west of Palmyra.

The Syrian government, backed by Russian forces, recaptured Palmyra from the extremists in March, to great fanfare. The militants had destroyed numerous monuments dating back to Roman times during their hold of the city.

The two militaries have since diverted their attention to fighting local opposition forces around Damascus and Aleppo.

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1:30 p.m.

The U.N. human rights office says it has received reports that hundreds of men have gone missing after crossing from rebel-held eastern Aleppo into government-controlled areas of the Syrian city.

Spokesman Rupert Colville said Friday that family members have reported losing contact with the men, who are between the ages of 30 and 50, after they fled opposition-held areas of Aleppo around a week or 10 days ago.

Colville says the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights is also concerned by reports that some civilians trying to flee are being blocked by armed opposition groups and in some cases being fired upon.

In a briefing in Geneva, he said "civilians are being used as pawns and prevented from leaving."

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9:30 a.m.

The Russian military says it has helped more than 8,000 civilians leave the rebel-controlled eastern part of Aleppo.

The military's Center for Reconciliation in Syria said early Friday that 8,461 civilians, including 2,934 children, have left Aleppo's eastern neighborhoods in the last 24 hours. The center said 14 militants surrendered their weapons and were granted amnesty.

The statement came hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Syrian government troops suspended their active operations in Aleppo to allow the evacuation of civilians. Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces have retaken large parts of eastern Aleppo in recent days.

The Russian military said its sappers have cleared mines from 6 hectares (15 acres) of Aleppo, allowing the restoration of a water facility, two power stations, two mosques and two schools.