September 30, 2016 - 12:20 PM
BEIRUT - The Latest on Syria (all times local):
The United Nations is again calling for weekly 48-hour humanitarian pauses "at a minimum" to allow humanitarian aid into rebel-held eastern Aleppo, evacuate those in critical condition, and give civilians a respite from the barrage of bombs and attacks.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Friday that "Eastern Aleppo and its estimated population of 275,000 people is now declared as besieged."
He reiterated the U.N. call for an end to indiscriminate bombing and shelling, saying there are continued reports of ongoing aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo and other areas resulting in civilian casualties.
Dujarric said civilian infrastructure is also being severely damaged including water networks, medical facilities and bakeries.
He told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York that the United Nations and its partners remain ready to deliver aid to Aleppo as soon as conditions allow.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is establishing an internal U.N. Board of Inquiry to investigate the attack on a joint U.N.-Syrian Arab Red Crescent convoy on Sept. 19 that killed at least 20 people, many of them aid workers.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced the board's formation on Friday saying it will "ascertain the facts" and report to the secretary-general who will decide what further steps to take.
The convoy was delivering assistance to the town of Uram al-Kubra, west of Aleppo city, when it came under fire as supplies were being unloaded at a warehouse.
At least 18 of the 31 trucks in the convoy were hit and the warehouse and a nearby medical clinic were severely damaged. Among those killed was the head of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent in Uram al-Kubra.
Syrian President Bashar Assad denied in an AP interview that Syria or Russia carried out the attack and suggested rebels were to blame, saying the area was under their control.
Witnesses described no fewer than 20 missiles striking the warehouse and trucks over a two-hour period. They said they heard aircraft and that among the blasts were barrel bombs, which are dropped from government helicopters. The rebels have no aircraft.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Mark Toner says Russia still hasn't taken steps to end the violence in Aleppo.
But he said the U.S. also hasn't fulfilled its threat to end diplomatic discussions with Russia on stopping the war and establishing a counterterrorism alliance against the Islamic State group and al-Qaida.
"We are at the same place," Toner told reporters, confirming that Kerry spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as the U.S. diplomat was on his way back from former Israeli President Shimon Peres' funeral.
"We have not definitively suspended our diplomatic relations regarding Syria with Russia," Toner said. "We're on the verge because we have not yet seen them take the type of actions we are looking for them to take."
Toner said the U.S.-Russian conversations continue.
Russia has responded to the U.S. call to end the onslaught on Aleppo by saying that Washington should separate the moderate opposition from al-Qaida's branch in Syria for any credible cease-fire to begin.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in a phone call Friday that the al-Qaida affiliate had repeatedly violated the U.S.-Russia-brokered truce in Syria and hampered humanitarian aid deliveries. The group recently changed its name from Nusra Front to the Fatah al-Sham Front in an attempt to demonstrate it had broken from al-Qaida.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said the group used the truce to regroup and many other rebel units have effectively merged with it despite the U.S. pledge to separate them.
The truce has collapsed amid renewed fighting and the Syrian army has launched an attack on Aleppo backed by Russian warplanes.
The Syrian Civil Defence group and a Syrian monitoring group are reporting that airstrikes on rebel-held neighbourhoods in the northern city of Aleppo have killed at least 12 people.
The Civil Defence says they have recovered 24 bodies on Friday, adding that search and rescue operations are continuing to pull more people trapped under the rubble.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday's airstrikes killed 12, adding that the death toll was expected to rise.
Conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of airstrikes in Syria.
Aleppo has been a centre of violence in recent months. But since a U.S.-Russia brokered truce ended on Sept. 19, more than 300 people there have been killed.
The U.N. Human Rights Council has voted to convene a high-level panel to discuss human rights in Syria at its next session, including witness testimonies.
The 47-member body in Geneva passed a resolution Friday by a vote of 26-7 with 14 abstentions that calls for a panel to discuss issues like enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention and the need for accountability for related violations and abuses in Syria.
The resolution also condemned a current military offensive on rebel-held eastern Aleppo "conducted by forces loyal to the Syrian authorities" and urged them to halt immediately the "indiscriminate bombing of the civilian population."
The measure was the latest in a string of resolutions on Syria at the council, which has had a Commission of Inquiry investigating abuses and crimes there since 2011.
A spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says Russia's involvement in Syria is justified because militants did not manage to capture the capital Damascus thanks to Russia.
Speaking on the first anniversary of its operation in Syria, Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that Putin never gave a timeline for how long the bombing mission might last and still won't.
Russia's declared goal was to support the Syrian government of Russia's long-term ally Bashar Assad and Peskov insisted that in that respect the operation has been a success.
If it wasn't for the Russian involvement, the Islamic State group and other "terrorists" would have been "sitting in Damascus," he told reporters.
Regarding figures cited by the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights on casualties as a result of the airstrikes, he said he would not comment reports by "a group based in the UK"
The U.N. health agency is decrying an "unfathomable" situation for medical care in rebel-held parts of Syria's largest city, pleading for a halt to the violence that has prevented aid and support from entering.
Dr. Rick Brennan, emergency risk director for the World Health Organization, says the security situation is too dangerous for outside medical personnel to enter rebel-held eastern Aleppo.
Speaking Friday to reporters in Geneva, Brennan appeals for permission to evacuate the sick and injured. He says 846 people have been wounded, including 261 children, in the last couple of weeks.
He says fewer than 30 doctors doing work that's "beyond heroic" are now in eastern Aleppo, where at least 250,000 people live.
Human rights advocates say airstrikes by Syria's government and its Russian allies are believed to be behind much of the violence.
Syria's military and an activist group say government forces have captured a hospital in the northern city of Aleppo a day after regaining control of a Palestinian refugee camp in the city.
The Syrian military said government forces are strengthening their positions in the Handarat refugee camp and took control on Friday of the Kindi hospital.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the hospital is on the northern edge of the city just 2 kilometres (1.3 miles) from a major intersection north of Aleppo known as the Gondol roundabout.
Syrian government forces have been on the offensive in Aleppo for days under the cover of intense airstrikes. Recent violence killed more than 300 people in the city.
State news agency SANA said rebels shelled the government-held part of Aleppo killing four and wounding 10.
A Syrian opposition monitoring group that tracks Syria's civil war says a year of Russian airstrikes have killed more than 9,000 people in the war-torn country.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Friday the dead include civilians and fighters, among them militants from the Islamic State group and an al-Qaida-linked faction.
On Sept. 30 last year, Russia began an air campaign backing forces of the Syrian President Bashar Assad and turning the balance of power in his favour.
Opposition activists have blamed Russia for the recent air campaign against rebel-held neighbourhoods of the northern city of Aleppo that has killed more than 200 civilians in the past two weeks and demolished buildings.
The Observatory says that the airstrikes have killed 9,364 people over the past year.
News from © The Associated Press, 2016