The Latest: UN 'ready to engage' with Assad in Syria talks

AP News
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Posted: Dec 05, 2017 9:19 AM

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

4:15 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria is "ready to engage" with President Bashar Assad's representatives as peace talks are set to resume in Geneva, but they haven't shown up yet.

U.N. spokeswoman Alessandra Vellucci says the eighth round of peace talks under special envoy Staffan de Mistura was set to restart Tuesday after a weekend break.

She said: "The delegation of the government has been invited back in Geneva as of today."

Syria's ambassador to Geneva, Hussam Edin Aala, told The Associated Press that Damascus was "studying" the invitation.

The head of Syria's government delegation has blasted the opposition for a communique in which it stated its ultimate goal was to remove Assad from power. Bashar Ja'afari said on Friday his team was leaving Geneva for the weekend and that Syria would decide whether it would return to the talks.

Ja'afari warned then that there could be no progress in the talks as long as the opposition insisted on what he described as a "provocative and irresponsible" position.

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2:30 p.m.

Syrian state media and an opposition monitoring group say an explosion has ripped through a van near the central city of Homs, killing at least eight people.

The Islamic State group claimed Tuesday's attack in Akarma, a government stronghold south of Homs.

IS says it targeted a bus carrying Syrian soldiers, but the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said those killed were civilians, including six women.

Syrian state TV has aired images of the van's charred body, as well as damaged vehicles nearby. State news agency SANA says eight people were killed and 18 wounded.

Homs, Syria's third largest city, is frequently hit by bombs. The city was known as the "capital of the revolution" following the 2011 uprising against President Bashar Assad, but is now under government control.

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9 a.m.

Syria's state news agency says Syrian air defense has shot down three Israeli missiles that were targeting a military post near the capital, Damascus.

SANA says the attack occurred early on Tuesday but hasn't said whether there were casualties.

The attack comes three days after Syria said Israel fired several surface-to-surface missiles at a military post near Damascus, causing material damage but no casualties.

There was no Israeli comment on the incident.

The opposition's Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack was an Israeli airstrike on the Damascus suburb of Jamraya, which is home to a government research center.

Israel has carried out a number of airstrikes against suspected arms shipments believed to be bound for Lebanon's Hezbollah militant group, which is fighting alongside Syrian government forces.