- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 21, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) - The Latest on the Syrian civil war (all times local):

3:35 p.m.

The Kremlin is rejecting allegations that the Russian military is responsible for civilian casualties in the besieged, rebel-held suburbs of Syria’s capital.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Wednesday the claims are “unfounded.” The U.S. and others allege that Russia shares responsibility for the casualties in eastern Ghouta along with Syria.

Syrian government forces have continued to pummel the area since stepping up strikes late Sunday. At least 260 people have been killed since Sunday night, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday the Syrian government’s assault on eastern Ghouta was necessary to uproot al-Qaida-linked militants.

Russia has waged an air campaign in support of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces since September 2015.


12:15 p.m.

The spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey is determined to press ahead with its offensive to clear a Syrian enclave of Kurdish fighters despite an attempt by Syrian pro-government forces to enter the region.

Fighters loyal to Syria’s government entered the Afrin enclave late Tuesday to support of the Syrian Kurdish militia. They were repelled by Turkish shelling.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told reporters Wednesday that the convoy of up to 50 vehicles had retreated east of Aleppo, adding: “It appears that their aim was a little bit of a show and a little bit of propaganda.”

The spokesman did not rule out new attempts by the group to enter Afrin but warned they would become a “legitimate target if they take sides” with the Kurdish fighters.

Turkey launched its operation on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin of Syrian Kurdish fighters who it regards as “terrorists” because of their links to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.


11:30 a.m.

The Syrian Civil Defense rescue organization says 10 people have been killed by government airstrikes and shelling on a town in the suburbs of Damascus.

The group, also known as the White Helmets, says government forces targeted Kafr Batna early Wednesday with air strikes, artillery fire, and barrel bombs - crude, explosives-filled oil drums dropped from helicopters at high altitudes.

The locally-run Ghouta Media Center reported strikes on Kafr Batna and other towns in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta region outside Damascus.

Activists say there has been no letup to the wave of airstrikes and artillery shelling on eastern Ghouta since government and Russian forces stepped up their assault late Sunday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least 250 civilians have been killed.

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