- Associated Press - Thursday, December 15, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) - The Latest on the conflict in Syria, where a cease-fire deal to allow evacuation of rebels and tens of thousands of civilians from eastern Aleppo is back on (all times local):

4 a.m.

Four Syrian organizations have sent a U.N. commission a list of 304 attacks in Aleppo where they say Russia bears “a high likelihood” of responsibility for violating international humanitarian law.

Their letter to the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, obtained by The Associated Press, said the attacks resulted in 1,207 civilian deaths, including 380 children.

It said “evidence clearly indicates that Russia has committed or been complicit in war crimes in Syria.”

The letter is signed by the Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, the Syrian Network for Human Rights, Independent Doctors Association and Violations Documentation Center.

The organizations offered to provide the commission with evidence and other information to assist its investigations “and help the identification of suspected perpetrators.”

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9:45 p.m.

France’s foreign minister says the U.N. Security Council is meeting to examine how to deploy international observers to the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo to monitor the safe evacuation of civilians.

Jean-Marc Ayrault says Friday’s meeting, called on the initiative of France, will aim to see what can be done “quickly” to protect trapped civilians.

Ayrault says there are some 50,000 civilians trapped in the east of the city, and calls the situation on the ground “catastrophic.”

Ayrault spoke in a joint press conference in Paris on Thursday following a meeting with the U.N. envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura.

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9:10 p.m.

Turkey’s president says his country is prepared to receive the most vulnerable cases among those evacuated from the Syrian city of Aleppo.

In a televised address Thursday, Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey will take “children, elders, those who are really in difficult conditions.”

Sharing a border with Syria, Turkey has played a pivotal role in managing Europe’s refugee crisis. It is also a leading supporter of the Syrian rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar Assad, and negotiated the Aleppo cease-fire with Russia.

Ankara often criticizes the West for not doing more to share the burden.

Erdogan said that while “some Western countries say ‘We can’t take even one person,’ we are determined to let them into Turkey… even if they are 1,000.”

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8:45 p.m.

A Turkish aid official says preparations have been completed to receive civilians evacuated from the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo.

The head of the Turkish Red Crescent, Kerem Kinik, told reporters Thursday that the wounded would be the first to be transferred into Turkey.

The state-run Anadolu Agency, citing the Health Ministry, says at least 90 wounded people are already waiting to cross from Syria into Turkey’s border province of Hatay.

Anadolu says 25 U.N. trucks carrying food, medicine and other supplies have meanwhile crossed into Syria.

Ankara helped broker a cease-fire to allow the safe evacuation of Syrian civilians and fighters from eastern Aleppo, where the rebels are confined to a tiny enclave after a massive air and ground offensive by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Turkey is home to more than 3.1 million refugees, most of them Syrians.

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8:30 p.m.

The International Committee for the Red Cross says the evacuation of rebels and civilians from the Syrian city of Aleppo is likely to take several days.

The aid group’s Damascus-based spokeswoman Ingy Sedky said 13 ambulances carrying wounded people left the tiny rebel enclave Thursday night and that civilians were still boarding buses.

An earlier convoy of buses and ambulances carried around 1,000, including 300 children and 28 wounded people.

The evacuation was arranged under a cease-fire deal brokered by Turkey and Russia this week to allow rebels to withdraw from the last remaining sliver of Aleppo under their control.

The rebels seized eastern Aleppo in 2012, but lost nearly all of it in recent weeks to a devastating air and ground offensive following a monthslong siege.

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8 p.m.

Russia says a second convoy of ambulances and buses carrying civilians and rebel fighters has left the Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the convoy, accompanied by Russian military officers, will follow the same route out of Aleppo taken by the first convoy, which departed Thursday afternoon.

The evacuations are part of a cease-fire deal meant to allow rebels to leave their last remaining enclave in the city. It comes after a massive government offensive drove the opposition fighters from nearly all of eastern Aleppo, which they had held since 2012.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and has been providing airstrikes in support of his forces for more than a year.

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7 p.m.

France’s ambassador to the United Nations says international observers should monitor the safe evacuation of civilians and fighters from the war-torn Syrian city of Aleppo.

Francois Delattre told reporters Thursday that his country is working with Germany to call for a U.N. Security Council briefing on the matter.

He said: “We consider, more than ever in these very dark days in Aleppo, that it’s critically important to have international observers under the surveillance of the U.N.”

Delattre said a meeting would likely take place Friday.

6:15 p.m.

The U.N. says it’s now time to move to a cessation of hostilities in Syria, humanitarian access, and a political solution to the conflict.

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Thursday that it’s time “to go back to basics” following the government-led campaign to retake rebel-held eastern Aleppo.

Eliasson said Syria and close allies Russia and Iran should return to the political track in order to end the “enormous suffering” and destabilization of the region, with its “huge international impact.”

He said: “I hope everybody leans back and looks at the tragedy, the horrors that have fallen on Aleppo, and then really ask themselves: Isn’t this the moment now to go for the full cessation of hostilities and humanitarian access and political transition?”

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5:40 p.m.

The Russian military says over 1,000 people have been evacuated from Aleppo under a cease-fire deal reached with Syrian rebels.

Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of the military’s General Staff said the evacuees will travel to the rebel-controlled province of Idlib. He says the Russian military will use drones to monitor their progress in order to “prevent provocations.”

Poznikhir said Thursday that Syrian government troops killed more than 900 militants during their offensive on Aleppo’s rebel-held eastern neighborhoods.

He says 108,076 civilians, including 47,183 children, have been evacuated since the start of the offensive. He says 3,033 rebels have voluntarily exited Aleppo during that time, and that 1,524 of them have been granted amnesty, while the others are awaiting clearance.

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5:30 p.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad says “history is being made” with the defeat of insurgents of Aleppo.

In a video message posted on the Syrian presidency’s Telegram channel Thursday, Assad said that “what is happening is bigger than congratulations.”

The last remaining rebels in eastern Aleppo as well as tens of thousands of civilians are currently being evacuated under a cease-fire deal reached with Russia, a close ally of Assad. Driving insurgents from Syria’s largest city is Assad’s greatest victory since the start of the conflict.

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5 p.m.

A World Health Organization official in Syria helping monitor and carry out the evacuation of people from eastern Aleppo says it’s “going smoothly” and that “around 1,000” have left.

Elizabeth Hoff said by phone from the Ramouseh crossing on the southwestern edge of the city that she had seen no presence of Syrian government forces but that Russian troops were overseeing the transport of people out.

Hoff, the U.N. health agency’s representative in Syria, said that checks of identity cards or the state of health had not been conducted yet among those being evacuated by bus and ambulance.

The office of the U.N. envoy for Syria said the evacuations would be “three-pronged,” involving the sick and injured, vulnerable people and fighters.

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3 p.m.

A U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator for Syria says the United Nations has been locked out of an evacuation plan for the embattled eastern Aleppo and pro-government forces have blocked some aid vehicles from entering the rebel enclave in the city.

Jan Egeland of the U.N. Syria envoy’s office says an estimated 50,000 people have fled eastern Aleppo, where rebel fighters have increasingly lost control, and are now in contact with U.N. personnel and their partners.

Egeland told reporters that Russian envoys at a U.N.-backed humanitarian task force meeting for Syria in Geneva on Thursday pledged that “no harm will meet these who are evacuated.”

He says the “three-pronged” evacuation for those wounded, the vulnerable and opposition fighters was worked out by “parties” on the ground, and that the U.N. was “only invited this morning to monitor.”

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2:45 p.m.

A convoy of ambulances with wounded civilians has started to leave the last rebel-held part of eastern Aleppo.

It’s the first evacuations under a cease-fire deal this week meant to allow the pullout from the rebel enclave and the surrender of the territory to Syrian government control in the face of a devastating ground and air offensive by government forces.

Syrian state TV is showing live footage of a long convoy of ambulances and green buses driving out and crossing the Ramouseh bridge en route through government territory and into a rural, rebel-held part of Aleppo province on Thursday.

Ingy Sedky, Damascus spokeswoman for the ICRC, told The Associated Press that 13 ambulances and 20 buses left in the convoy.

The civilian and rebel pullout will mark the end of the rebels’ four-year control of eastern Aleppo.

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1:30 p.m.

Syria state TV says 29 buses and ambulances are heading to two Shiite villages besieged by rebels to evacuate the sick and other in need there.

The evacuations, which were announced on Thursday, appear to be part of the deal to pull out the last civilians and rebels from the sliver of territory in eastern Aleppo that remains of the once rebel enclave.

The Turkey-Russia cease-fire crumbled amid fighting that erupted on Wednesday. The Syrian government’s allies also demanded that he sick and other humanitarian cases in the besieged villages in northern Idlib province be allowed to leave.

State TV quoted Syrian Hama provincial governor Mohammed al-Hazouri as saying the vehicles, ambulances and medical teams are heading to Foua and Kfraya to evacuate some families and critical cases.

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1 p.m.

Syrian activists say residents in eastern Aleppo are starting to board buses and ambulances, the first step in an evacuation that is part of the rebel enclave’s effective surrender.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group says ambulances and municipal buses crossed from the government territory and arrived shortly after noon on Thursday in the last rebel area in Aleppo.

Syrian state TV has broadcast footage showing a convoy of green municipal buses rumbling toward the agreed-on evacuation point inside the opposition-held area.

The spokeswoman for the International Committee of the Red Cross, Ingy Sedky said their staff has arrived with Syrian Arab Red Crescent ambulances and workers to evacuate the wounded. The ICRC says it’s preparing to evacuate 200 wounded people, some in critical condition.

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12:15 p.m.

A Palestinian-born Danish volunteer helping out with evacuations in rebel-held parts of Aleppo says he is part of a six-vehicle ambulance convoy that will head to a nearby hospital with “about 2,000 of those wounded.”

Khalid Alsubeihi spoke to Denmark’s TV2 channel on Thursday from the besieged city where the pullout of rebels and civilians from the eastern enclave is expected to start later in the day.

Alsubeihi says the convoy “will be one of the first groups that are being evacuated” and expressed hope that everything will go smoothly and that the Syrian government and the Russians will abide by their pledges “this time.”

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11:05 a.m.

Syrian activists say pro-government forces have shot at ambulances trying to leave eastern Aleppo, wounding at least 3 evacuees.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the ambulances were still in opposition territory when they came under small-arms fire from the government side on Thursday. It says three people were wounded.

Local hospital director and opposition activist Hamza Khatib says no ambulances or buses have been able to leave eastern Aleppo yet.

The Syrian Civil Defense responders posted on social media that two of its members were wounded when government forces fired on ambulances leaving the opposition’s remaining sliver of land in Aleppo.

The activist-run group says they were evacuating wounded civilians and rebels as part of an agreement to return the city to government control. The group says one person died and two were wounded but the fatality could not immediately be confirmed.

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9:40 a.m.

A Pan-Arab TV station is broadcasting live from a crossing point in eastern Aleppo, where ambulances are on hand to evacuate the wounded and sick Syrians out of remaining rebel area of the city.

The Al-Mayadeen TV footage shows the Ramouseh crossing point on the southern edge of the rebel enclave and ambulances belonging to the Syrian Arab Red Crescent parked and waiting on Thursday. A green government bus is also seen in the footage.

The evacuation is part of an agreement between rebels and the Syrian government for the pullout from opposition-held neighborhoods of fighters and civilians in what is effectively Aleppo’s surrender to the government.

The rebels have held to the eastern part of the city for four years but their enclave rapidly evaporated in the past days in the face of a fierce Syrian government onslaught.

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9:20 a.m.

The Russian military says it’s preparing for the rebels’ withdrawal from Aleppo.

The military’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria says that 20 buses and 10 ambulances are prepared to carry the rebels to Idlib on Thursday.

The center says it’s preparing for the rebels’ exit together with the Syrian government. It says Syrian authorities have given security guarantees to all rebels willing to leave Aleppo.

The Russian military also says it’s monitoring the situation using drones.

A previous attempt to arrange a rebel withdrawal failed Wednesday when a cease-fire deal between the rebels and the Syrian government collapsed, with the government and the rebels blaming each other for its failure.

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8:55 a.m.

A Syrian army official confirms that all is ready for rebels and civilians to start leaving Aleppo “at any moment.”

The army official, who spoke by telephone to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said all preparations are ready for the operation to begin on Thursday.

His comments came after the cease-fire deal, mediated by Ankara and Moscow, unraveled amid fighting the previous day.

An opposition monitoring group says the operation has already begun but that could not immediately be independently confirmed. -Bassem Mroue in Beirut

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8:25 a.m.

The media arm of Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group says overnight negotiations have reinforced a cease-fire deal to allow Syrian rebels and tens of thousands of civilians to leave the besieged eastern city of Aleppo.

It says Syrian rebels will likely begin leaving their last holdout in Aleppo “in the coming hours.”

Thursday’s announcement by Hezbollah’s Military Media came after the cease-fire deal, mediated by Ankara and Moscow, unraveled amid fighting the previous day. Shiite Hezbollah militiamen are fighting in the Syrian civil war on the side of President Bashar Assad’s forces.

Damascus and its allies have not commented on the cease-fire being back on. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the fighting stopped in the city around 4 a.m.

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