The Latest: Russia envoy urges settlement of Syria conflict

AP News
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Posted: Dec 31, 2016 3:48 PM

The latest on the conflict in Syria, and the Russia and Turkey brokered cease-fire agreement between Syria's government and opposition rebels. All times local.

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10:30 p.m.

Russia's U.N. ambassador is urging the international community to ensure that a political settlement of the conflict in Syria is reached in 2017.

Vitaly Churkin said Saturday Russia is convinced that if the world's nations are guided by this objective and "the interests of the people of Syria and the stability of the region as a whole, then we can achieve success."

He told the U.N. Security Council after it unanimously adopted a resolution supporting Russian and Turkish efforts to end the fighting in Syria and jumpstart peace negotiations that its backing "is very important."

The resolution looks forward to a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representative in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January which Churkin said will be the first time the delegations "meet face to face."

The final text was changed in response to Western demands to call the Astana meeting "an important step ahead of the resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva on Feb. 8, 2017."

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10 p.m.

U.S. deputy ambassador Michele Sison says the Obama administration strongly supports a nationwide cease-fire in Syria accompanied by "unfettered humanitarian access" but regrets that details of the agreement brokered by Russia and Turkey have not yet been made public.

Sison told the U.N. Security Council after it unanimously adopted a resolution Saturday backing Russian and Turkish efforts to end the fighting in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations that "the goals are laudable and we welcome all efforts to end the violence."

"We have voted in favor of this resolution because it strikes the right balance — cautious optimism and support, predicated on hope, but tempered by a realistic need to wait to see how this arrangement is implemented before casting the full weight of the Security Council behind it," she said.

But Sison said the U.S. is concerned at reports of a Syrian offensive supported by Hezbollah militia in Wadi Barada.

"Our hope is that a cease-fire will truly hold and will not serve as a justification for further unacceptable offensives," she said.

"The Security Council's adoption of this text should be seen as a strong signal that such activities must cease."

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8:20 p.m.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution supporting efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the nearly six-year conflict in Syria and jump-start peace negotiations.

The resolution approved Saturday afternoon also calls for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria. And it looks forward to a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representative in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January.

Western members of the council had sought changes to the draft resolution circulated by Russia and Turkey during consultations Saturday morning to clarify the role of the U.N. and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

The final text dropped an endorsement of the Syria cease-fire agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara. And it changed the draft to call the Astana meeting "an important step ahead of the resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva on Feb. 8, 2017."

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7:45 p.m.

Diplomats say the U.N. Security Council will vote at 1 p.m. EST Saturday on a newly revised draft resolution that drops an endorsement of the Syria cease-fire agreement and instead "welcomes and supports" efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the violence and jumpstart political negotiations.

Western members of the council sought changes to the Russian draft during closed consultations to clarify the role of the U.N. and the meaning of the agreement brokered by Moscow and Ankara. The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity because the consultations were still continuing in private.

The final draft also calls for the "rapid, safe and unhindered" delivery of humanitarian aid throughout Syria and looks forward to a meeting of the Syrian government and opposition representativese in Kazakhstan's capital Astana in late January.

During closed door consultations Saturday morning, the text was changed to call the Astana meeting "an important step ahead of the resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations in Geneva on Feb. 8, 2017," according to the final draft obtained by The Associated Press.

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7:30 p.m.

Western members of the U.N. Security Council are seeking changes to the draft resolution endorsing the cease-fire agreement in Syria brokered by Russia and Turkey.

New Zealand's U.N. Ambassador Gerard van Bohemen told reporters before the council started closed consultations Saturday morning that "we need some more clarity about what the agreements provide, and we want to know how this relates to the U.N. process."

He said members know what the agreement says but want clarity on what it means.

"To take an example, it exempts from the agreement areas of active combat operations against the terrorists," van Bohemen said. "Does it mean the whole of (rebel-held) Idlib, for example? That would concern us."

The revised draft resolution circulated by Russia "endorses" the cease-fire documents.

"That's another problem," van Bohemen said, "because we don't want to endorse an agreement that we don't fully understand its implications."

"We do hope there will be an outcome that we can all support,"

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2 p.m.

Activists say besieged opposition pockets around the Syrian capital of Damascus have seen no reprieve in fighting despite a nationwide cease-fire agreement that went into effect over 36 hours ago.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says Saturday that at least two civilians and five militants have been killed in battles over opposition-held Eastern Ghouta and Barada Valley regions.

The Barada Valley Media Center says Russian and Syrian government aircraft are striking villages in the water-rich region for the 10th consecutive day. The raids have coincided with a severe water shortage in Damascus since Dec. 22. The valley is the region's primary source of water.

The Syrian military on Friday denied attacking the valley, saying it would not violate the truce brokered by Russia and Turkey.