The Latest: Syria claims 99 percent control of Aleppo

AP News
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Posted: Dec 12, 2016 1:26 PM
The Latest: Syria claims 99 percent control of Aleppo

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

8:15 p.m.

Syrian state TV says government forces and their allies now control 99 percent of the northern city of Aleppo's formerly rebel-held neighborhoods.

The channel says on Monday night that the army has seized control of the Bustan al-Qasr neighborhood and cleared it of all opposition fighters.

The pro-government al-Ikhbaria TV says the "terrorist groups" withdrew from the al-Sukkari neighborhood. Earlier Monday, troops captured the al-Fardous and Sheikh Saeed neighborhoods.

Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes and militias from across the region launched a large-scale offensive on eastern Aleppo last month and are on the verge of driving the rebels from the city. Doing so would hand President Bashar Assad his greatest victory yet in the 5 ½-year civil war.

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8 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is speculating that the seizure of Palmyra by the Islamic State group was engineered by the U.S.-led coalition to divert attention from the situation in Aleppo.

Speaking Monday in Belgrade, Serbia, Lavrov said the fact that the IS militants were able to sneak out of Mosul and move across the territory patrolled by warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition raises the thought that "it has been staged to give a respite to bandits in eastern Aleppo."

While Lavrov stopped short of leveling direct accusations at the U.S., the statement reflected Moscow's deep suspicions of Washington's intentions.

Lavrov said talks with the U.S. on a rebel withdrawal from Aleppo failed because Washington insisted it should be preceded by a cease-fire, while Moscow opposed it, arguing it would give the rebels a chance to regroup.

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6:15 p.m.

France's President Francois Hollande is pleading for a humanitarian corridor to allow civilians to flee and get access to food and medical aid, as the Syrian government forces say they have gained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo.

Hollande said "there cannot be any solution without a cease-fire," after a meeting in Paris Monday with Riad Hijab, head of the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee.

Hollande said France will continue to back Syria's opposition in its fight against the Islamic State group and other extremist groups, and at the same time against the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad.

Hijab said, "if the regime is making progress in Aleppo districts, that doesn't mean we will offer concessions" on the opposition demand that Assad leave power.

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6 p.m.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault says Russia is using double talk and lies to undermine the effort to produce a cease-fire in the Syrian city of Aleppo.

Ayrault said Monday that "there is Russian double talk and a form of permanent lying. On one hand they say they're negotiating a cease-fire, on the other they continue the war."

He told reporters in Brussels that Russia's tactics are aimed at "saving the regime of Bashar Assad and bringing about the fall of Aleppo."

Ayrault accused Russia of "pretending to fight terrorism while concentrating in fact on Aleppo and leaving room for (the Islamic State group), which is in the process of retaking Palmyra."

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4:50 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists say the Islamic State group has detained dozens of people in and around Palmyra after capturing the ancient city from government forces.

Mohammed Hassan al-Homsi, a native of the city who runs Palmyra News Network, said on Monday that many people were detained while fleeing the fighting, and that 15 pro-government fighters were also captured.

Osama Khatib, a Palmyra native who fled to Turkey years ago and has contacts in the area, said contact was lost with some 100 families who fled the fighting.

A video released by the IS-linked Aamaq news agency showed the extremists holding three young men believed to be pro-government fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said IS fighters are on the verge of imposing a siege on a nearby army base known as T4.

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4:40 p.m.

A U.S. official says Russian diplomats have refused an American proposal for a temporary halt to the fighting in Syria's Aleppo to allow the safe departure of people from a rapidly collapsing rebel enclave.

The American proposal came during weekend talks in Geneva between U.S. and Russian experts that were billed by U.N. and Russian officials as an important moment in trying to stop the bloodshed in the northern city.

Government forces are on the verge of driving rebels from eastern Aleppo, which they had held since 2012.

The U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity, said the United States had proposed an immediate halt to fighting to allow for safe departures but that the Russians had refused.

Syria's military said earlier Monday that it has gained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo.

—Jamey Keaten in Geneva.

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4:20 p.m.

An administrator at the last functioning clinic in Aleppo's collapsing rebel-held enclave says he and other medical staff are taking cover in a shelter as Syrian troops move in.

Mohammed Abu Rajab said in an exchange of text messages with The Associated Press on Monday that he does not know what is happening outside the building.

He says thousands of people are trapped in the rapidly shrinking rebel stronghold. He says the large number of wounded overwhelmed the clinic and that the dead and wounded are now being left in the streets.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's troops and allied forces are on the verge of retaking all of eastern Aleppo, which was captured by the rebels in 2012.

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3 p.m.

A news agency linked to the Islamic State group and a Syrian activist say airstrikes on an IS-held central region killed at least 20 people.

The Aamaq news agency says poison gas was used in the attack on the eastern side of the central province of Hama, killing 20 while 200 others suffered breathing problems.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 34 people, including 11 children and eight women, were killed in the attack.

Monday's airstrikes on the Okeirbat region came a day after IS militants re-occupied Palmyra, taking the ancient central city from government troops.

In August, a report by an international team concluded that both the Syrian government and IS carried out chemical attacks in Syria during 2014 and 2015

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1:50 p.m.

A Syrian rebel spokesman says opposition fighters are retreating in eastern Aleppo under intense government fire that is putting thousands of civilians at risk.

Bassam Haj Mustafa, a senior member of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group who is in contact with fighters inside the city, said Monday that the collapse of the rebel enclave is "terrifying."

He says the fighters are doing "their best to defend what is left."

The Syrian military says it has retaken 98 percent of eastern Aleppo, which the rebels seized in 2012. The opposition-run Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels still hold around 7 percent of eastern Aleppo.

Tens of thousands of civilians have fled to government-held western Aleppo since the offensive began earlier this month, but thousands remain trapped in the rebel stronghold.

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1:30 p.m.

Turkish media says the air force is pounding Islamic State targets in northern Syria and has dropped leaflets calling on residents to leave a militant stronghold there.

The private Dogan news agency said Monday the armed forces had dropped leaflets on al-Bab, the next target of a campaign by Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces.

The leaflets urge civilians to flee to secure areas, saying "God willing, victory is near." They urge residents to "not let the Daesh terror, which serves the devil, exploit you," referring to IS by an Arabic acronym.

Images of the Arabic and Turkish language pamphlets were also circulated on social media. There was no comment from the army.

The state-run Anadolu Agency says the military has hit more than 138 IS-related targets in northern Syria, including 29 in al-Bab and its vicinity.

Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces crossed into northern Syria earlier this year to drive IS and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces out of a strategic area along the border.

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1:15 p.m.

A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says the unwillingness of the United States to work with Moscow in Syria contributed to the loss of the ancient city of Palmyra to the Islamic State group.

Dmitry Peskov told journalists Monday that "the U.S. does not want to cooperate," adding that "cooperation would have probably allowed us to more effectively avoid such attacks from terrorists."

Syrian troops aided by Russian airstrikes drove IS from Palmyra in March, but the militants stormed back into the city over the weekend, forcing the army to retreat despite a wave of Russian airstrikes.

The Syrian government and Russia had been focused on Aleppo, where they are close to defeating rebels that have held the eastern half of the northern city for four years.

Peskov said many of the IS fighters involved in the Palmyra assault had recently left the Iraqi city of Mosul, where U.S.-backed Iraqi forces have been waging a nearly two-month-old offensive against the militants.

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12:30 p.m.

Syria's military says it has gained control of 98 percent of eastern Aleppo, leaving only a tiny enclave packed with rebels and civilians.

The military statement Monday said pro-government forces have seized control of al-Fardous, one of the largest neighborhoods in eastern Aleppo, which has been held by the rebels since 2012.

Rami Abdurrahman, the head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition-run monitoring group, said the fighting is ongoing in the district.

Syrian troops backed by Russian airstrikes and militias from across the region launched a large-scale offensive on eastern Aleppo earlier this month and are on the verge of driving the rebels from the city. Doing so would hand President Bashar Assad his greatest victory yet in the 5 ½-year civil war.

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10 a.m.

Syria's state media and an opposition monitoring group say that government troops and allied militias have seized a wide strip on the southern edge of Aleppo from rebels, closing in on tens of thousands of civilians squeezed into the center of the city.

State TV says the Syrian forces fully secured Sheikh Saeed neighborhood — an area interspersed with agricultural fields along the southern stretch of the rebel enclave — on Monday, after days of intense clashes.

The Britain-based Observatory for Human Rights estimates the fall of Sheikh Saeed leaves rebels enclosed in a small area in central Aleppo that's only 10 percent of what rebels used to control.

Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to be still trapped in that area, accessible only through government-monitored crossing points.