The Latest: Hezbollah leader slams Turkey, Saudi Arabia

AP News
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Posted: Feb 16, 2016 1:25 PM
The Latest: Hezbollah leader slams Turkey, Saudi Arabia

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the civil war in Syria (all times local):

8:02 p.m.

The leader of Lebanon's Hezbollah group says Turkey and Saudi Arabia are using the Islamic State group as a "pretext" to launch a ground operation in Syria.

Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah says both countries are driven by their "hatred" after the successive defeats suffered by rebels they support in Syria.

He says both countries are ready to start a regional and international war because of their "ignorance."

Nasrallah, whose fighters are in Syria fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces, was addressing supporters in Beirut Tuesday via satellite link from his hideout elsewhere in the city.

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7:52 p.m.

The United Nations says the Syrian government has approved access to seven besieged areas for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid.

U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq named the seven areas as Deir el-Zour, Foua and Kfarya in Idlib, and Madaya, Zabadani, Kfar Batna and Moadamiyeh in rural Damascus.

He said "humanitarian agencies and partners are preparing convoys for these areas, to depart as soon as possible in the coming days."

Humanitarian access to besieged areas is part of the agreement reached by 17 key nations in Munich on Feb. 12. The agreement also calls for a cessation of hostilities within a week.

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7:37 p.m.

Doctors Without Borders says the number of people killed in an airstrike that struck a hospital it supports in Syria has risen to at least 11.

In a statement Tuesday, the group also known by its French acronym MSF says the death toll is likely to rise, adding that rescue workers are still looking through the rubble.

Given the repetitive nature and increasing frequency of attacks on medical facilities in Syria, "we do not know if the facility will reopen in another location," said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF head of mission for Syria.

Moscow on Tuesday rebuffed claims that Russian warplanes struck a hospital in northern Syria.

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1:35 p.m.

A Turkish official says his country is pushing the case for ground operations in Syria, hoping for the involvement of the U.S. and other allies in an international coalition against the Islamic State group.

The official told reporters in Istanbul that "without ground operations it is impossible to stop the fighting in Syria" and that Turkey has pressed the issue in recent discussions with the U.S. and other Western nations.

But he ruled out the possibility of Turkey undertaking unilateral action or the prospect of a joint Saudi-Turkish venture without broader consensus in the anti-IS coalition. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

The NATO member is a key ally in the fight against IS and has opened up its air bases to the U.S. and other members of the coalition.

-By Dominique Soguel in Istanbul.

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12:50 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman has rebuffed claims that Russian warplanes struck a hospital in northern Syria.

Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that this was another case of those who make such accusations against Russia being unable to back up their claims and said they should rely on official announcements from the Syrian government.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Russian warplanes targeted the hospital in Idlib province, destroying it and killing nine people.

On Monday night, France's new foreign minister said attacks like the one on the hospital "could constitute war crimes."

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11:25 a.m.

Syrian government forces and a predominantly Kurdish coalition of fighters have advanced and captured more areas from an array of insurgent groups in the country's north.

Syria's state news agency SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday that government forces took the villages of Ahras and Misqan in the northern province of Aleppo.

Separately, members of the Syria Democratic Forces, a coalition of Arab and Kurdish groups, captured the major town of Tel Rifaat, one of the largest strongholds of militants in Aleppo province. After Tel Rifaat, SDF fighters also took the nearby village of Kfar Naseh just south of the town.

Syrian government forces backed by Russian warplanes have pressed a major offensive north of Aleppo since the start of February.