Cease fire over, violence resuming in Aleppo

Syrian President Assad says cease fire was being used to "save the terrorists"

Mideast Syria
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen marching walk inside the destroyed Grand Umayyad mosque in the old city of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2016. Government forces and rebel fighters have fought to control the 12th century mosque in the last four years, until Syrian troops seized control of it this week. Syrian rebels said Tuesday that they reached a cease-fire deal with Moscow to evacuate civilians and fighters from eastern Aleppo, after the U.N. and opposition activists reported possible mass killings by government forces closing in on the rebels' last enclave. (SANA via AP)

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):

3 p.m.

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.


2:10 p.m.

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.


1:20 p.m.

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.”


12:40 p.m.

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.


11:50 a.m.

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.


11:45 a.m.

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.”


11:40 a.m.

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.


11:15 a.m.

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 Aleppoand the release of Iranian hostages held in Idlib.


11 a.m.

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.


10:50 a.m.

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.


8:50 a.m.

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.

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