Asia / Europe / Middle East

The Latest: Russia sends sappers to clear east Aleppo mines

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

5:30 p.m.

The Russian military says it has sent a team of sappers to clear the eastern part of Aleppo from mines.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff said Wednesday the unit has 200 soldiers and 47 vehicles. He said the Russian Defense Ministry has also sent a field hospital to Aleppo.

Syrian government forces captured more than a third of opposition-controlled eastern Aleppo Monday.

Rudskoi said there are more than 90,000 civilians in those districts. He urged the U.N. to quickly provide humanitarian aid to them, noting that the Castello road, a key highway leading to the city, is now safe for humanitarian convoys.

He said 647 militants have left Aleppo, of which 630 have been amnestied and the remaining 17 are undergoing checks.


5:15 p.m.

The president of the Aleppo district councils has issued a “cry of suffering” on behalf of civilians after a Paris meeting with France’s foreign minister, who assessed the suffering in Syria as “probably one of the most violent tragedies since World War II.”

France has called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting later Wednesday to try to stop the fighting and bring in humanitarian aid.

Calling for safe passage for civilians, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said “save the civilian population”.

Aleppo city council president Brita Hagi Hasan said that 250,000 civilians in Aleppo face the threat of death. “They send out a cry to the world… Let civilians get out of the city,” he pleaded.

He denounced what he claimed were massacres in the country committed by the Syrian regime, Russia, Iranian militias and others.


4:30 p.m.

Russia’s foreign ministry spokeswoman has mocked the Syrian Civil Defense for posting a Mannequin Challenge video — a viral Internet meme in which participants remain frozen as mannequins while the video is recorded — and accused them of staging scenes of destruction in the rebel-held neighborhoods of Aleppo.

The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, posted the video online last month, showing two rescue workers striking a pose next to an injured man to participate in the trending hashtag.

Maria Zakharova said Wednesday the White Helmets, recently touted to win the Nobel Peace Prize, deserved an Academy Award for their performance.

The White Helmets have dealt with the aftermath of Russian and Syrian government strikes while Moscow has vehemently denied it has ever targeted civilian areas.

Zakharova said the video confirms Moscow’s “worst fears” that the White Helmets film forged videos and “could easily imitate a tragedy.”


2:30 p.m.

A top Russian diplomat has criticized the Turkish president’s comments about Syrian President Bashar Assad as contradicting all international agreements on Syria.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday that the Turkish army entered Syria in order to topple Assad, who is backed by Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told Russian news agencies Wednesday that Moscow was baffled by such comments. It’s against all international agreements that Turkey is party to “if Erdogan plans to wage war” on Assad, he said.

Traditionally warm relations between Russia and Turkey turned frosty after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet near the Syrian-Turkish border last year.

It took several months before Erdogan apologized to Putin over the incident and the two nations began rebuilding damaged ties.


12:00 p.m.

Syrian activists say at least 21 people have been killed in an artillery barrage on a housing area for those displaced in rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says the Wednesday morning attack struck the Jub al-Quba district, where residents displaced from government advances on other areas of the city have sought protection.

It said it occurred near the site of a government air strike that killed at least 20 the day before.

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group put the toll at 45 dead. It accused government forces of being behind the attack.


11:30 a.m.

Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in Aleppo as pro-government Syrian forces press on with their campaign to reclaim the divided city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said Wednesday more than 50,000 out of an estimated quarter-million inhabitants have been displaced by attacks on rebel-held eastern Aleppo over the past 4 days. Many of them fled to safer ground in areas under government or Kurdish control.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says around 20,000 people have fled.

The Lebanese Al-Manar TV channel reported from the Aleppo countryside that pro-government forces were advancing in the southern portion of the city’s rebel enclave.

The government has seized much of the northern half of the enclave in a swift advance that began Saturday.
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