- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 30, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) - The latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

12:30 a.m.

The U.N.’s envoy for Syria says he believes talks on a new Syrian constitution could achieve results because countries with influence on the government and opposition appear determined to insist that both sides engage.

Staffan de Mistura told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York by audio link from the Russian city of Sochi where the agreement to draft a new constitution was announced that “we are actually going to establish a constitutional committee.”

De Mistura says he will come up with criteria for participants and choose a maximum of 45-50 members after wide consultations. He says Syrian government allies Russia and Iran and opposition supporter Turkey each submitted 50 names already. But he says Syrians who weren’t at Sochi will have “very substantial participation” along with other factions.


10:15 p.m.

Turkey’s military has confirmed that a Turkish military convoy has been targeted by a car bomb attack in Syria’s northern Idlib province, killing one civilian and wounding two other personnel.

The military said the convoy was traveling as part of its mission to enforce a “de-escalation” zone in Idlib when it was attacked Tuesday.

The victim was a civilian attached to the force that is enforcing an agreement with Russia and Iran to stabilize the lines of conflict in the war-torn country.

A Turkish soldier and another civilian were wounded in the attack, the military said.


9:30 p.m.

A Syria peace conference hosted by Russia has produced an agreement to form a commission that would draft the country’s new constitution.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov hailed Tuesday’s conference in the Black Sea resort of Sochi as an important step toward national reconciliation. Syria’s main opposition groups boycotted the conference, dubbed the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue.

Lavrov said participants agreed to form a constitutional committee that will be based in Geneva. He said they named some of its members, adding that groups which didn’t attend will be invited to name their representatives to the committee.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who has been leading peace talks in Geneva, attended the Sochi conference. He said the new committee will include representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition.


9 p.m.

Syrian activists say two Turkish soldiers were killed in a bomb blast targeting a large military convoy moving through a rebel stronghold in northwestern Syria.

Opposition activist Abdelkafi Alhamdo says an explosion, possibly a car bomb, destroyed the first vehicle in a Turkish convoy as it entered his town of Atareb, in Aleppo province, on Tuesday.

The activist-run Thiqa News Agency and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, reported that two soldiers were killed.

There was no immediate confirmation of the attack from the Turkish military.

The convoy was accompanied by an escort from the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee, which dominates a rebel stronghold spanning Idlib province and parts of Aleppo.

Turkish forces first deployed in Idlib in November as part of an agreement with Russia and Iran to define their respective zones of influence in war-torn Syria.


7:45 p.m.

A U.N. official has expressed concern about the safety of over 300,000 civilians in the Afrin enclave in northern Syria, where Turkish troops are battling Syrian Kurdish forces and where the U.N. has received reports of civilian casualties.

Assistant Secretary-General Ursula Mueller told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that 15,000 people have been displaced in Afrin district and another 1,000 in the Aleppo province. She says the U.N. has also received reports “that local authorities inside Afrin are restricting civilian movements, particularly for those who want to leave the district.”

Mueller also said airstrikes and fighting in and around the northern Idlib province have resulted in the displacement of over 270,000 people since Dec. 15, forcing most to seek shelter in some 160 makeshift settlements.

She says the U.N. estimates that 13.1 million people in Syria need protection and humanitarian aid, including 6.1 million displaced within the country.

Mueller also accused the Syrian government, especially, of blocking all aid deliveries to “besieged” and “hard-to-reach” areas in January and imposing new requirements that have halted assistance to some areas that were previously reached.

She said that in the besieged Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta the U.N. human rights office has documented at least 81 civilians killed, including 25 women and 30 children in the first 10 days of January.

While 29 patients were evacuated in late December, Mueller said hundreds more need immediate medical attention and so far 21 have died waiting for medical evacuation.

- Edith M. Lederer


4:15 p.m.

A rocket fired from northern Syria has hit a building in the Turkish border town of Kilis. Associated Press journalists at the scene say no one was hurt in the attack.

The rocket, which targeted a workplace in Kilis town center on Tuesday, is believed to have been launched from the Afrin region, where the Turkish military is conducting a cross-border operation to drive out Syrian Kurdish fighters since Jan. 20.

Residents were seen running in panic after the rocket exploded.

Multiple rocket attacks on Kilis and the border town of Reyhanli since then have killed three people - two of them Syrian refugees - and wounded more than 20 others.


3:25 p.m.

Turkey’s defense minister says five Turkish soldiers and 24 allied Syrian opposition force members have been killed so far in the cross-border offensive in the northwest Syrian enclave of Afrin.

Addressing parliament on Tuesday, Nurettin Canikli denied reports of civilian deaths in the offensive, saying there had been “no civilian losses originating from the Turkish Armed Forces” or the Syrian opposition fighters.

Earlier, Turkey’s military denied claims that it is using internationally-banned weapons or ammunition such as napalm, chemical or biological arms, in its offensive in Afrin, following claims by some Kurdish activists.

A military statement also said its offensive in the enclave of Afrin, launched Jan. 20, is against “terrorists” and does not target civilians or historic, religious or cultural structures and relics in the area.


2:35 p.m.

The World Medical Association is calling on Turkey to release senior members of a Turkish physicians’ group who were detained on possible terror charges for speaking out against a military operation in northern Syria.

The France-based association on Tuesday urged Turkey to end its “campaign of intimidation” against critics of the operation, hours after prosecutors issued warrants against 11 members of the Turkish Medical Association who warned against the operation’s human costs.

At least eight of them were detained for questioning on Tuesday.

The international body says it “fully supports our Turkish colleagues in their public statements that war is a public health problem.” It also says it has a “clear policy that physicians and national medical associations should alert governments to the human consequence of warfare and armed conflicts.”


2:20 p.m.

Doctors Without Borders says two airstrikes in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib have hit a hospital supported by the group, killing at least five people and forcing it to close indefinitely.

The group known by its French acronym, MSF, says a child was among those killed on Monday. Six people were wounded, including three of the medical staff.

MSF says the airstrikes hit the 18-bed Owdai Hospital in the town of town of Saraqeb that serves a population of 50,000.

MSF’s Tuesday statement says it provides medicines and supplies to the hospital’s emergency department but doesn’t have staff there. At the time of the attack, the hospital was treating those wounded in an airstrike that had hit Saraqeb’s main market where 11 were killed.

Luis Montiel, MSF head of mission in northern Syria, says the attack “demonstrates the brutality with which health care is coming under attack in Syria” and called it a “clear violation of international humanitarian law.”

The same hospital was hit on Jan. 21, forcing it to close for three days.

MSF says that in 2016, 32 medical facilities in Syria supported by the group were bombed or shelled on 71 occasions.


1:30 p.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters have cleared two villages in a northern Syrian enclave of Syrian Kurdish fighters which Turkey considers to be terrorists.

Anadolu Agency said the two villages west of the town of Afrin were cleared of the militia forces on Tuesday.

Turkey launched a military offensive against Afrin on Jan. 20 to drive out the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, which it says are an extension of the outlawed Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish troops, who had managed to capture the strategic Bursayah hill northeast of Afrin town on Sunday, were now attempting to take control of nearby hills and mountains.

He said the Syrian opposition force, fighting alongside Turkish troops, had lost 16 fighters while another 100 were injured since the start of the offensive.

Erdogan defended the Turkey-backed Syrian opposition fighters as heroes after Turkey’s main opposition party accused them of links to Islamic extremists and questioned whether Turkey’s military should be fighting alongside them.


12:05 p.m.

A Russia-sponsored peace conference for Syria in the Black Sea resort of Sochi has started, after a two-hour delay.

Moscow describes the conference as an effort to speed up political settlement for the war-torn country.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said during the opening session on Tuesday that “all circumstances are ripe for peace in Syria.”

Syrian official Ghassan al-Qalaa said: “I call you upon in the name of millions of Syrian to have mercy upon our country.”

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it invited 1,600 representatives to the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue, but so far only the government and opposition representatives tolerated by it have shown up. The main Syrian opposition body has boycotted the talks.

Turkish Foreign Ministry officials say a Syrian opposition delegation that left for Sochi from Ankara decided not to attend the gathering in protest of “pictures and logos” depicting the “Syrian regime flag” that were on display at the Russian airport and at the congress center.

Instead, the officials say Turkey would represent that group in Sochi. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity in line with Turkish government protocol.

-Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey;


11:20 a.m.

A Russian diplomat says the opening of a Russia-sponsored peace conference for Syria is being delayed.

Russia’s Black Sea resort of Sochi is hosting the conference that Moscow describes as an effort to speed up political settlement for the war-torn country.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, says it invited 1,600 representatives to the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue, but so far only the government and opposition representatives tolerated by it have shown up. The main Syrian opposition body has boycotted the talks.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Artyom Kozhin told Russian news agencies on Tuesday that the conference is being delayed but “will start soon.”

He confirmed earlier reports of some members of the rebel groups returning to the airport in protest. Kozhin says the Turkish foreign minister assured the Russian foreign minister on the phone earlier this morning that the “matter will be settled.”

The Sochi gathering has been overshadowed by reports of intense clashes that erupted on Monday on a strategic hilltop in northwestern Syria as Kurdish forces tried to enter the area a day after it was captured by Turkish troops.


10:15 a.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says senior members of a medical association who spoke out against Ankara’s military offensive in a Syrian Kurdish enclave have been detained.

Anadolu Agency says the chief of the Turkish Medical Association and seven others were detained in Tuesday’s police operations for breach of Turkey’s anti-terror laws. It says prosecutors issued warrants for 11 members of the association.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused association members of being “terrorist lovers” and his government has cracked down on criticism of the offensive. Turkey considers the Kurdish militia it is fighting in Syria an extension of the outlawed Kurdish rebels inside Turkey.

As many as 311 people were detained in the past week for allegedly engaging in “terrorist propaganda” through social media postings critical of the military operation.

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