Group says Aleppo being plunged into ‘hell’
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria, where fighting is still underway in Aleppo despite a cease-fire deal that was to allow opposition fighters and civilians to withdraw (all times local):
Human Rights Watch says the forces battling for control of the Syrian city of Aleppo are plunging its residents into ‘‘hell.’’
The New York-based group has called in a statement Wednesday on the forces loyal to the Syrian government in particular to halt ‘‘unlawful’ attacks on and allow for the safe evacuation of civilians. The group says rebel groups have also shelled government areas, killing and wounding civilians.
Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said civilians in eastern Aleppo ‘‘who had a glimmer of hope that the attacks would stop and that aid would finally reach them are instead trapped in a new brutal air and ground attack.’’
A brief cease-fire collapsed Wednesday, foiling plans to evacuate civilians.
Doctors Without Borders says the remaining doctors in the square mile of eastern Aleppo under attack are ‘‘terrified’’ of possible retaliation from pro-government forces and, more than anything, want to be evacuated.
Teresa Sancristoval, the head of the emergency unit for Aleppo with Doctors Without Borders, said the doctors who are regularly in touch with her group ‘‘feel abandoned to their fate and with no way out.’’
A cease-fire designed to allow for the evacuation of civilians and rebels crumbled Wednesday as government bombing resumed. Doctors in the besieged strip have already been overwhelmed, and only one health facility remains operational. Rescuers say bodies and wounded are being left on the streets because of the intensity of the attack.
‘‘People are losing any kind of hope,’’ she said.
The Russian military says Syrian government forces have seized another district in eastern Aleppo, further squeezing a small remaining rebel enclave.
The military’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria said the Syrian troops retook the Sukkari quarter, reducing the area still under rebel control to 2.5 square kilometers (less than a square mile).
A cease-fire deal between the rebels and the Syrian government that was to allow the evacuation of rebels and civilians from eastern Aleppo effectively collapsed Wednesday, with the government and the rebels blaming each other for its failure.
The Russian military says the Syrian government forces were observing the cease-fire on Tuesday, but the rebels fired at a convoy that was to carry the evacuees to the rebel-held Idlib province at dawn.
A U.N. commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria says it is ‘‘imperative’’ to ensure that civilians are granted safe passage out of eastern Aleppo.
The Commission of Inquiry says the Syrian government and its allies now bear primary responsibility for preventing rights violations and reprisals in the area.
It said Wednesday that ‘‘numerous reports of violations perpetrated by pro-government forces continue to emerge, including summary executions, arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and forced conscription.’’
In a statement issued in Geneva, the group said it also ‘‘received allegations’’ that opposition groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and the al-Qaida-linked Fatah al-Sham Front, were preventing civilians from leaving and embedding fighters among civilians, putting the civilians at risk.
Hundreds of Kuwaitis have gathered outside the Russian Embassy demanding a halt to the violence in Aleppo, where Moscow is helping Syrian government forces drive rebels from their last enclave.
The crowds gathered Wednesday were drawn from various backgrounds, and included both liberals and Islamists. Protesters carried pictures of Syrian children and posters of President Bashar Assad with a swastika.
Parliament member Jamaan al-Herbish demanded that his country sever ties with Russia because of its support for Assad. He also called for Kuwait to allow more Syrians into the country, saying ‘‘we have to support our fellow Arab brothers and sisters against the attacks and crimes by the Syrian regime and its allies.’’
Former parliament member Ahmad al-Shahoomi called the fight for Aleppo a ‘‘battle against Sunni Islam.’’
Kuwait is home to more than 130,000 Syrian nationals, according to Kuwaiti government statistics released in 2014. Kuwait was one of the first Gulf Arab countries to sever ties with Syria and pledge support to the rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.
Many Kuwait-based Syrians who need to renew their passports and apply for other government documents must either travel to Damascus or to the United Arab Emirates, where a Syrian Embassy is still open.
Qatar has canceled all celebrations for its forthcoming National Day over the ongoing fighting in Aleppo.
The state-run Qatar News Agency said Wednesday that the decision was made by the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
The brief report said the move showed ‘‘solidarity with our people in the city of Aleppo, who are subjected to the worst kind of repression and torture, displacement and genocide.’’
Qatar has backed rebels trying to overthrow embattled Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Qatar’s National Day on Dec. 18 commemorates its unification in 1878.
A cease-fire deal between rebels and the Syrian government in Aleppo effectively collapsed on Wednesday, with fighter jets resuming deadly air raids over the opposition’s densely crowded enclave in the east of the city.
A Turkish Islamist NGO has called on activists to drive to the Syrian border in solidarity with Aleppo.
On Wednesday an aid convoy of a dozen trucks departed Istanbul following a press statement by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH.
Organizers say a total of 350 trucks have already been sent to Syria.
IHH President Bulent Yildirim condemned the silence of ‘‘major powers’’ and ‘‘Islamic countries’’ in the face of the suffering of Syrian women and children living in east Aleppo, where a cease-fire agreement brokered by Turkey and Russia is falling apart.
He says: ‘‘Everywhere in the world, people watch this massacre... The Geneva convention, international law is not working. They have no meaning.’’
Turkish officials say preparations have been made in Turkey and northern Syria to help those who flee Aleppo.
Those preparations include plans to set up a new tent city that can accommodate up to 80,000 people.
Syrian President Bashar Assad says western countries are seeking a cease-fire in the northern city of Aleppo in order to save ‘‘the terrorists.’’
Assad spoke to the Russia Today channel in excerpts of an interview aired Wednesday.
His comments come after government troops and allied militias have all but captured the entire rebel-held enclave. Thousands of civilians, alongside rebels, remain crammed in a small sliver of territory. A cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey to allow for their evacuation is unravelling as shelling and bombing resumed Wednesday.
Assad said the cease-fire was to stop his government’s advance in the city and ‘‘keep the terrorists and save them.’’ He also said the capture of the ancient city of Palmyra by Islamic State militants was to ‘‘distract’’ from the Aleppo offensive.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has urged all sides to abide by a cease-fire agreement for the Syrian city of Aleppo that Ankara helped broker with Moscow — even as the deal was rapidly unravelling.
Erdogan said in televised remarks that the cease-fire was ‘‘perhaps the last hope for the innocents’’ of eastern Aleppo and appealed for the immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor ‘‘without any obstruction or sabotage’’ so people can safely leave the area.
He blamed President Bashar Assad’s forces for the violence on Wednesday. Erdogan said ‘‘not even a few hours had passed since the agreement was reached that the regime forces broke the cease-fire and once again started to attack civilians.’’
Erdogan added that ‘‘Assad’s regime is clearly committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in Aleppo. Everybody needs to see this reality, including those who give him support.’’
Erdogan said he would hold talks scheduled with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in the evening.
Iran is congratulating its close ally Syria on driving rebels from Aleppo, where fighting is still underway despite a cease-fire deal that was to allow for the evacuation of opposition fighters and tens of thousands of civilians.
Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani said Wednesday that the ‘‘brave sons of the region’’ have forced the ‘‘mercenary terrorists’’ to retreat.
Thousands of Shiite fighters from Iran, Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan are battling alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces as they near victory in Aleppo, the country’s largest city and former commercial capital. Russia, another key ally, has provided airstrikes.
Gen. Rahim Safavi, a senior adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, said that after Aleppo, ‘‘Americans have realized that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the top player in southwest Asia.’’
Syrian activists say fighter jets have resumed bombing raids over remaining rebel areas in eastern Aleppo, further imperiling a cease-fire deal for the city.
Media activist Mahmoud Raslan says the aircraft bombed the rebel Ansari district in the city on Wednesday.
He says that the aircraft ‘‘began to strike as if there’s no such thing as a ‘cease-fire’ or ‘evacuation of civilians.’ ‘‘
Raslan says the bombing is a de facto announcement that ‘‘they are going to kill us all.’’
A member of the first responders’ team in eastern Aleppo, Ibrahem al-Haj, confirmed the strikes. It was not clear whether the planes were Syrian or Russian.
Russia and Turkey brokered a cease-fire deal to evacuate Syrian rebels and civilians from their last holdout in eastern Aleppo late on Tuesday but that appeared to be collapsing on Wednesday, according to both sides.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed new Syria talks with the United States as ‘‘pointless.’’
Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies on Wednesday that Moscow has high hopes for Syria talks with Turkey and thinks they could be ‘‘more effective than many months of a pointless hangout we have had the United States.’’
Lavrov has complained that every time they reach a deal, the United States ‘‘rolls back’’ on what has been agreed.
Russia and Turkey have brokered a cease-fire deal to evacuate Syrian rebels and civilians from their last holdout in eastern Aleppo that seems to be unravelling on Wednesday, according to both sides.
European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is calling on the Syrian government and Russia to do their utmost to spare civilians as they prepare to capture the last rebel holdouts in the besieged city of Aleppo.
Mogherini said in a statement on Wednesday that ‘‘the priority now, in these hours, is to protect civilians, guarantee them safe and monitored transit to a place of safety.’’
She added that ‘‘this is particularly the responsibility of the Syrian government and its allies.’’ Mogherini also warned that ‘‘those who perpetrate war crimes will be held accountable.’’
Media reports say that buses, which were meant to evacuate rebels and tens of thousands of civilians from Syria’s eastern Aleppo, have left the crossing point on the edge of the opposition enclave and returned to their depots.
The buses’ departure could signal a major delay in the evacuations and even the collapse of the cease-fire deal.
The Lebanese channel al-Manar TV has broadcast footage showing the Syrian government’s green-colored buses leaving the evacuation point without any passengers on Wednesday.
Al-Manar is the media arm of the Lebanese militant Shiite group Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government forces in Syria.
Shelling and rocket fire also resumed Wednesday at the edges of the opposition’s one-square-mile enclave in Aleppo.
A legal adviser to Syrian opposition factions says an evacuation deal for Aleppo is being held up by Iranian fighters who have renewed shelling of the rebel-held part of the city.
Shiite volunteers from Lebanon, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan have been fighting in Syria in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces. Assad is also backed by Russia, his top ally in the war.
Osama Abu Zayd said despite Russian renewals of their commitment to the truce agreement, the Iranian field commander in Syria was obstructing the deal.
Abu Zayd told The Associated Press on Wednesday that ‘‘it is clear that the Russians can’t get Iran to abide by the deal.’’ He says Iranian militias and Hezbollah are shelling four Aleppo neighborhoods still held by the opposition.
Abu Zayd spoke on Wednesday from the outskirts of Aleppo. He says the Iranians are making new demands, including recovering the remains of Iranian fighters killed in Aleppo and the release of Iranian hostages held in Idlib.
The Russian Defense Ministry says Syrian rebels in the besieged city of Aleppo have broken the latest cease-fire deal.
The ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the rebels ‘‘resumed the hostilities’’ at dawn, trying to break through Syrian government positions to the north-west.
The ministry also says the rebels fired at a convoy that was due to depart in the early hours of the day from an eastern Aleppo neighborhood carrying those rebels who had agreed to be evacuated to the city of Idlib.
Syrian rebels and civilians were expected to pull out from their last holdout in Aleppo after the remaining rebel factions reached a cease-fire deal the previous day to evacuate from eastern Aleppo.
Syrian activists say shelling has resumed in the remaining rebel-held eastern part of the city of Aleppo, despite a cease-fire deal to allow for the evacuations of opposition fighters and tens of thousands of civilians.
Aleppo media activist Mahmoud Raslan says he was reporting for a Turkish agency when a rocket crashed beside him at around 10:15 a.m. on Wednesday. He shared an audio recording of the explosion with The Associated Press.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says an explosion was heard in the rebel-held Saif al-Dawleh district around the same time.
Pro-government forces have trapped thousands of civilians and gunmen in eastern Aleppo under a crushing bombardment over the past weeks as they pushed to clear the northern city of the opposition.
The implementation of the deal struck on Tuesday to evacuate civilians and rebels from the enclave, signaling a surrender by the opposition, was delayed on Wednesday morning.
The Syrian rebel pullout from their last holdout in the city of Aleppo has been delayed.
The withdrawal was supposed to start early in the morning on Wednesday after the rebels the previous day reached a cease-fire deal to evacuate from eastern Aleppo in what is effectively a surrender — and a defining moment in Syria’s civil war.
The pan-Arab al-Mayadeen TV broadcast footage of Syrian government buses idling at an agreed-on evacuation point. It’s unclear what has caused the delay.
The TV says it expects at least another couple of hours of delay. It says the buses are prepared to move 5,000 fighters and their families to Atareb, an opposition-held town in the northwestern Aleppo countryside.
The Syrian government or the opposition haven’t made any announcements about the delay.