The Latest: UN aid convoys increase; access woes continue

AP News
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Posted: Feb 22, 2017 5:27 PM
The Latest: UN aid convoys increase; access woes continue

GENEVA (AP) — The latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

11:25 p.m.

The United Nations' humanitarian chief says more aid convoys have been getting to besieged and hard-to-reach parts of Syria in February than in recent months, but safe, unimpeded access remains a problem.

Undersecretary-General Stephen O'Brien said Wednesday that two convoys have made it this month, together carrying aid for 191,000 people. Only one convoy was deployed in each of December and January, with aid for 46,000 people combined.

Still, O'Brien says, the U.N. had to call off two convoys in the last four days because of shelling and gunfire. The aid was destined for the opposition-held enclave of al-Waer in Homs, Syria's third-largest city.

Humanitarian officials have previously said they have had difficulties getting approvals for convoys from Syrian authorities. O'Brien said Wednesday he hopes upcoming procedural changes will help.

A request for comment from Syria's U.N. mission wasn't immediately answered.

Besides convoys, humanitarian agencies use airdrops in Syria.

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9:30 p.m.

A Syrian opposition official says the negotiating delegation in Geneva would like "direct" talks with representatives of the Damascus government.

Speaking to reporters after his arrival on Wednesday, Salem Al Meslet, said, "We request and want direct talks, direct negotiations."

Al Meslet, who is the spokesman of the opposition's High Negotiations Committee, said he hoped for a "serious partner" in the talks.

But he doubted that the government delegation was willing to engage seriously on the topic of a political transition.

Al Meslet called on friendly nations to support Syria to make the transition from dictatorship to democracy.

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffen de Mistura, he added, would be meeting the opposition delegation Thursday morning.

"We want to see serious negotiations," he said. "We want to see an end to terrorism and occupation in Syria."

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4:40 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria says he's not expecting a breakthrough in the first peace talks under U.N. supervision in 10 months.

Staffan de Mistura spoke Wednesday, on the eve of planned talks between Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the opposition.

De Mistura said he was "determined" to maintain "a very proactive momentum" in the talks, which will focus on new elections, a new constitution and governance in the country, riven by nearly six years of war.

He said he sees the meetings as "the beginning of a series of rounds" that will allow negotiators to "go much more in depth on the substantive issues that are required for a political solution."

De Mistura called off the last round of U.N.-sponsored talks in April amid an upsurge in fighting.

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11:40 a.m.

Russia's defense minister has hailed the military's performance in Syria, saying new Russian weapons have proven their worth in the conflict.

Sergei Shoigu told the Russian parliament Wednesday that the military has tested 162 types of weapons in Syria, and only 10 of them have failed to meet expectations.

Shoigu said Russian pilots have flown 1,760 combat missions in Syria since the launch of the air campaign in September 2015, killing more than 3,100 militants, including 26 warlords. He said Russia helped prevent the collapse of the Syrian state.

Shoigu said that nearly 90 percent of all Russian military pilots have gained combat experience in the skies over Syria.

The minister said that the military's special forces also have performed well in the conflict, targeting the militant leaders and helping direct airstrikes.