The Latest: UN says unclear of own presence in Aleppo

AP News
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Posted: Dec 21, 2016 1:37 PM
The Latest: UN says unclear of own presence in Aleppo

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the developments related to the conflict in Syria (all times local):

8:45 p.m.

Two days after a U.N. resolution was approved urging immediate deployment of monitors to former rebel-held eastern Aleppo in war-torn Syria, it's not clear whether any U.N. observers are actually on the ground there.

Deputy U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq says some U.N. staff have been present at a Syrian government checkpoint outside eastern Aleppo but he couldn't say for sure if any observers were on hand in the eastern part of the city where civilians were loading into buses.

Haq says: "I don't know what our presence is in eastern Aleppo. I would need further information on that."

Evacuations resumed Wednesday after a delay, according to Haq, and more than 25,000 people have been evacuated from besieged neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city between Dec. 15-20. About 300 wounded and sick have been evacuated to Turkey, he said.

Haq said an additional 20 U.N. staff have been deployed in the area to bolster the 100 already in the area to help with evacuations.

The Security Council approved the resolution calling for observers on Monday.

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8:15 p.m.

Turkey's president says the Islamic State group is fighting "for dear life" to hold on to the northern Syrian town of al-Bab, carrying out suicide bombings and attacks with improved explosive devices against Turkish troops and Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters Wednesday however, that he hoped the town would "soon fall and the people of al-Bab will find the opportunity to return to their own lands."

His comments came hours after four Turkish soldiers were killed in the battle to capture al-Bab, raising the total number of Turkish troops killed in Syria to 25.

Erdogan said a road linking al-Bab to the embattled city of Aleppo was under the "total" control of the Syrian opposition and the Turkish troops.

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7:15 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has evacuated the last hospital patients left in east Aleppo.

The relief organization is supervising the evacuation of the Syrian opposition's last foothold in the war-torn city.

The ICRC said Wednesday evening all residents requiring urgent medical care have been evacuated as well. It said the last hospital in eastern Aleppo is now empty.

Pro-government forces struck medical facilities in east Aleppo repeatedly in their push to expel the opposition from the city this year. In November, the U.N. said it believed there were no more functioning medical facilities in eastern part of the city.

Some 25,000 people have been bused out of east Aleppo since last week, according to the ICRC, in an agreement by the opposition to surrender its last foothold in the city. Residents and opposition figures say the exodus amounts to forced displacement, brought on by the government's fierce assault against the east.

The evacuation is occurring under freezing and sleeting conditions.

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5:30 p.m.

A 7-year-old Syrian girl whose mother ran a Twitter account in her name about life in besieged eastern Aleppo has met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish capital, Ankara.

Bana Alabed's mother Fatemah set up and began operating the account in September, tweeting on her daughter's behalf. The account has garnered some 354,000 followers.

The girl and her family say they were evacuated along with other civilians from eastern Aleppo, which had been besieged by government forces backed by Russian air raids, on Monday as part of a deal that saw residents of the former rebel enclave head to other parts of the country.

The child's social media account has included tweets to people such as Michelle Obama and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, asking them for help.

Bana, her parents and two younger siblings were pictured with Erdogan, who hosted them in his presidential complex Wednesday. Erdogan tweeted photos of Bana and one of his brothers sitting on his lap, saying that "Turkey will always stand with the people of Syria."

Turkey supports rebels opposing Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

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4:45 p.m.

Syrian TV says rebel evacuations have resumed from Aleppo, paving the way for the government to reassume control of the war-torn city.

It said five buses had arrived to the Ramouseh crossing between the rebel and government sides of the city, after rebels handed over pro-government fighters they took prisoner during previous rounds of fighting.

An Associated Press TV crew says four buses have arrived to the city's rebel-held western countryside, marking the first successful evacuation in over 24 hours.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there are 60 buses prepared to evacuate some 3,000 fighters and civilians from the opposition's last foothold in the city. It is the last convoy set to leave Aleppo before the government is expected to declare it has reassumed full control of the city for the first time since rebels carved out an enclave for the opposition in 2012.

Syrian opposition forces agreed to surrender their last foothold in the city to the government last week. But a dispute delayed the final round of evacuations for over 24 hours after some 20,000 civilians and fighters were bused out of the war-torn city.

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3 p.m.

Syrian rebels say they have reached a deal with the government in Damascus to resume evacuations from the last rebel territory in the eastern part of the city of Aleppo.

Ahmad Qara Ali, spokesman for the Ahrar al-Sham rebel faction, announced on Wednesday afternoon that "an agreement has been reached to resume the evacuation of Aleppo."

He says that "evacuations will begin shortly."

Syrian opposition forces agreed to surrender their last foothold in the city to the government last week. But a dispute has delayed the final round of evacuations for over 24 hours after some 20,000 civilians and fighters were bused out of the war-torn city.

The government is expected to announce it has retaken full control of the city when the operations are complete.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it is prepared to facilitate the evacuations when they resume.

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1:05 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency has raised to four the number of Turkish soldiers who were killed in a battle to capture an Islamic State group-held town of al-Bab in northern Syria.

Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed military sources, initially said three were killed in the clashes on Wednesday.

The agency later said one of the seriously wounded soldiers died in hospital a little while later. The fatality brings the total number of Turkish soldiers killed in Syria to 25.

The agency also says Turkish jets bombed suspected IS shelters and defensive positions s in the al-Bab area on Wednesday, reportedly destroying 24 targets and "neutralizing" more than 40 militants.

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12:25 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says three Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria in the battle to retake the northern town of al-Bab from the Islamic State group.

The Anadolu Agency, citing unnamed military sources, says 11 Turkish soldiers were also wounded in the fighting on Wednesday, including one who was reported to be in critical condition.

The report says intense clashes are underway near a hospital in the town that the militants were using as a shelter and to store arms and ammunition.

Turkey sent ground troops into northern Syria in August to support Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces in clearing a border area of Islamic State group militants and to curb Kurdish territorial expansion.

At least 24 Turkish soldiers have been killed so far in the operation, entitled Euphrates Shield.

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10:45 a.m.

Syrian activists say the last buses meant to evacuate rebels and civilians from Aleppo have been delayed for nearly 24 hours. Reasons for the delay aren't clear.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the conflict though activists on the ground, says 60 buses are waiting to leave eastern Aleppo on Wednesday with some 3,000 evacuees — the final step that surrenders the Syrian opposition stronghold in the war-torn city to the government.

Ward Furati, spokesman for Aleppo's Fastaqim rebel faction, says the fighters "won't leave until security of all the civilians has been fully guaranteed."

The Observatory also says 21 buses are waiting to evacuate the sick and wounded from the rebel-besieged Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya as part of the cease-fire deal reached last week.