The Latest: US welcomes attempt to reduce violence in Syria

AP News
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Posted: Jan 24, 2017 1:04 PM
The Latest: US welcomes attempt to reduce violence in Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The latest developments on Syria following two-day talks in Kazakhstan between the Damascus government and rebel factions (all times local):

8 p.m.

The U.S. says it has seen the announcement from Russia, Turkey and Iran on their intent to establish a mechanism to enforce a cease-fire in Syria and welcomes actions that de-escalate violence in the country.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Tuesday that the U.S. calls on the three countries to press the Syrian government and its allies, as well as opposition forces, to abide by the cease-fire in order to create an environment more conductive to political discussions between Syrians.

The U.S. had no significant role in the talks between the Syrian government and its armed opponents in the Kazakhstan this week, which were sponsored by Russia, Turkey and Iran.

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4:50 p.m.

The Russian military says its bombers have struck Islamic State positions in eastern Syria in the third such raid in four days.

The Defense Ministry said that six Tu-22M3 bombers flew from their base in Russia to strike IS facilities in the province of Deir el-Zour on Tuesday. It said they successfully hit all designated targets, including an ammunition factory, arms and ammunition depots, and weapons locations.

Russian bombers also flew similar missions Saturday and Monday.

The raids came as Syrian government troops in Deir el-Zour found themselves in an increasingly desperate situation, cut in half in an ongoing IS offensive.

Russia has conducted an air campaign in Syria since September 2015, helping Syrian government forces to reverse the tide of the nearly six-year conflict.

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4:40 p.m.

The United Nations envoy to Syria says the talks in Kazakhstan have produced a "very important" commitment by Russia, Iran and Turkey to a cease-fire in the war ravaged country.

Staffan de Mistura says the three sponsors of the talks, Russia and Iran, who are allies to the Syrian government, and Turkey, a supporter of the rebels, have "direct, public political interest" as well as their own reputation and commitment to make the cease-fire last.

De Mistura says the three sides will meet soon in Astana to lay the parameters for a mechanism to reinforce the truce, in place since Dec. 30. Violations continued despite the cease-fire, as the sides traded blame.

Speaking at the end of the two-day conference, De Mistura urged all parties Tuesday not to let another cease-fire dissolve "because of lack of a political process," calling for the international community to come together for political negotiations. He is expected to host talks in Geneva next month.

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4:20 p.m.

A Russian presidential envoy at the Syria talks in Kazakhstan says Moscow is happy with the talks in Syria and waits for the opposition's reaction to a draft of the Syrian constitution that was circulated at the talks.

Talks in Kazakhstan's capital Astana between the Damascus government and rebel factions have concluded with Russia, Turkey and Iran striking a deal on a three-way mechanism to consolidate the country's nearly month-old cease-fire.

Alexander Lavrentyev, Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Syria, told Russia news agencies on Tuesday that Moscow is pleased that rebel factions finally sat down to talks with the government. Lavrentyev said the opposition is willing to work on a draft constitution that was circulated in Astana and looks forward to its feedback.

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3:30 p.m.

Syria's government envoy to the Russia and Turkey-led talks in Kazakhstan says the offensive against an area near the Syrian capital will continue despite a pledge to enforce a nearly month-old cease-fire.

The sponsors of the talks have pledged to reinforce the cease-fire and put a mechanism in place to ensure compliance.

Bashar al-Ja'afari, Syria's U.N. ambassador who led the government delegation to the talks in Astana, says the offensive by the government and allied troops will continue because "terrorist groups" control Ain al-Fijeh, the main source of water for the capital Damascus.

He accused insurgents of using the water as a weapon, blaming an al-Qaida-linked group. The rebels deny an al-Qaida-linked group is in the area, and have negotiated to include it in the cease-fire agreement.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported ongoing clashes Tuesday around the flashpoint area of Ain al-Fijeh in Barada Valley.

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2:50 p.m.

Syria's government says Russia- and Turkey-led talks in Kazakhstan have succeeded in consolidating a nearly month-long cease-fire in the war- ravaged country.

Bashar al-Ja'afari, Syria's U.N. ambassador who headed the government delegation to the talks in Astana, says the government has done all it can to "remove obstacles" facing the gathering.

He told reporters at a press conference on Tuesday that the talks succeeded in consolidating the cease-fire for "a specific period of time." He did not elaborate.

He added that this paves the way for more dialogue among Syrians in the future.

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2:15 p.m.

Syria talks in Kazakhstan between the Damascus government and rebel factions have concluded with Russia, Turkey and Iran striking a deal on a three-way mechanism to consolidate the country's nearly month-old cease-fire.

Kazakhstan's foreign minister, Kairat Abdrakhmanov, read out a statement on Tuesday, at the end of the two-day meeting, saying the three countries will use their "influence" to strengthen the truce, without specifying how that would work.

The statement says the three nations will continue their joint efforts in fighting the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida affiliate in Syria.

It also calls for Syria's rebels to separate from the al-Qaida-linked group known as Fatah al-Sham.

The statement adds that agreement in Astana paves the way for political talks to be held in Geneva on Feb. 8.

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12:55 p.m.

U.N. agencies are appealing for more than $8 billion in funding this year to help millions of people displaced inside Syria by the war or forced to flee abroad.

The U.N. refugee agency is seeking $4.63 billion in new funding to help at least 4.8 million people who have escaped abroad, mainly to Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.

Stephen O'Brien, the head of the Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, said at a Syria aid meeting in Finland that the U.N. is seeking "on the order" of $3.4 billion this year for an estimated 13.5 million internally displaced people.

O'Brien says that he fears Syria's war — already longer than World War II was — "will get worse."

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12:10 p.m.

Turkey's deputy prime minister is dismissing speculation that Turkey would hand over the northern Syrian town of al-Bab to Syrian President Bashar Assad's administration after it routs Islamic State militants from there.

Numan Kurtulmus told the state-run Anadolu Agency on Tuesday that Turkey launched its military push in northern Syria for its own security and to protect its border of terror threats.

He spoke as Turkey- and Russia-backed talks on shoring up Syria's cease-fire were underway in Kazakhstan.

Kurtulmus says that "al-Bab is not an operation that was launched to clear it and to hand it over to the regime" of Assad.

Turkey sent troops and tanks into Syria in August to back Syrian opposition fighters drive out IS militants from a border area. The IS-held of al-Bab has been under siege since December.

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11:55 a.m.

Finland's prime minister has made a strong global appeal for help for those affected by the "devastating" war in Syria, warning that it has resulted in millions of refugees and displaced, causing "population movements of great magnitude not seen since" World War II.

Juha Sipila spoke at the opening of a Syria aid conference in Finland's capital, Helsinki, on Tuesday.

He says that after six years of the conflict, the humanitarian crisis is Syria "is worse than ever before," with 13.5 million people needing assistance.

The conference coincides with Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan and is aimed at providing humanitarian priorities for Syria in 2017 and launching a regional refugee plan. It is being attended by U.N. organizations, aid agencies, government representatives from Syria's neighboring countries and donors from civil societies and the private sector.

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11:35 a.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says that Turkey, Russia and Iran have reached an agreement on a three-way mechanism to monitor and enforce a cease-fire in Syria.

The announcement is the first sign of progress during the second day of talks underway in Astana, Kazakhstan, between the Syrian government and rebel factions.

The Anadolu Agency said on Tuesday that the mechanism would allow the three countries to respond immediately to reports on breaches of the cease-fire by using "their influence" to end attacks. The report out of Astana was based on unnamed sources.

Anadolu says the agreement is part of an article of a planned joint declaration to be released later in the day. The agency said however, that the final declaration was still being worked out.

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9:15 a.m.

Syria talks between the Damascus government and rebel factions are underway in Kazakhstan for a second day, following a rocky start that saw harsh exchanges between the warring sides.

The talks are focused on shoring up a cease-fire in place since Dec. 30 and are to be followed by more negotiations in Geneva next month.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is mediating the talks, promised as he entered the venue at the Rixos Hotel in Astana there will be an "outcome" later on Tuesday.

Syrian rebel spokesman Osama Abo Zayd says his side will communicate with the government delegation through intermediaries, not directly.

The rebels have pinned their hopes on Russia and Turkey, which brokered the cease-fire, but Abu Zayd says they "are waiting for something more than statements."