The Latest: Syrian army clears town near capital of rebels
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Syrian state media says a town northeast of the capital Damascus has been cleared of rebel fighters after an agreement with the government, and an opposition monitor estimates that nearly 2,000 gunmen and their family members have left.
SANA state news agency said al-Tal has been cleared of gunmen after the evacuation was completed Friday. It didn’t say how many were evacuated. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on a network of activists on the ground, said more than 40 buses evacuated nearly 2,000 people to the rebel-controlled Idlib province in the north.
The evacuation comes a day after nearly 2,500 rebel fighters and their families were also evacuated from another town in the western suburb of Damascus, Khan al-Shih.
The government has been strengthening its hold on the capital Damascus, striking a series of deals with fighters in and around the city, mostly after they surrender amid intense fighting and tight sieges.
Turkey’s foreign minister is renewing calls for a ceasefire in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo.
Speaking in Beirut at a joint press conference with his Lebanese counterpart Friday, Mevlut Cavusoglu said a cessation of hostilities should be announced “as soon as possible, immediately.”
He also repeated his country’s stance that President Bashar Assad should no longer lead the country.
“We believe that Assad cannot actually enhance the national unity in the country,” Cavusoglu said.
“We have to be realistic,” he added. “The person who kills almost 600,000 shouldn’t rule any country.”
The Turkish official’s comments in Beirut came a day after he held talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Ankara, in which they gave no indication they were close to a cease-fire.
Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the Syria conflict.
Syrian state media is reporting from areas newly captured during a government ground offensive in the besieged enclave of eastern Aleppo, showing resettlement of civilians, restorations of roads and removal of debris.
State broadcaster al-Ikhabirya also showed hundreds of displaced people sitting on rain-soaked streets and others riding government buses to resettle in newly captured areas. Al-Ikhbariya aired interviews Friday with people who fled the opposition-held districts, some of them accusing rebels of opening fire to prevent them from crossing into government areas. Opposition figures and activists have also accused the government of shelling displaced Syrians who were fleeing the government advances. The UN said more than 31,000 people were displaced by the government advances since this weekend, seizing nearly half the area previously controlled by the opposition in a dramatic shift in the conflict.
The U.N. humanitarian aid agency estimates that 31,500 people have been displaced in rebel-held parts of Aleppo, Syria, over the last week, saying some have reportedly been killed or detained trying to enter government-held areas.
The Office of Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the situation has deteriorated in eastern Aleppo since Nov. 24, after pro-government forces took control of some areas.
OCHA says a total of 26,500 people fled to government-held Jibreen, east of Aleppo, and Kurdish-held Sheikh Maqsoud. Another 5,000 were displaced within east Aleppo.
Spokesman Jens Laerke on Friday cited reports that some men and boys trying to enter government-controlled western Aleppo had been detained.
OCHA cited reports that 45 people had died in shelling Tuesday in east Aleppo’s Jub al-Quby neighborhood while trying to reach government-held areas.
The Russian military says the Syrian government has taken over a city just outside of the capital after a rebel retreat.
The military’s Center for Reconciliation in Syria said the government took full control of Khan al-Shih just southwest of Damascus Thursday. It said that rebel groups that had controlled the town since 2012 left it this week under a deal with authorities.
It said in Friday’s statement that 1,846 rebels and 1,164 of their relatives had moved to the rebel-held city of Idlib in northern Syria in buses provided by the government. It said another 100 rebels and 300 members of their families will depart for Idlib in the coming days.
Russia-backed Syrian government forces also have won significant gains this week in the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo.
The Russian military is criticizing the United Nations for dragging its feet on delivering humanitarian aid to the areas of Aleppo, which have been recently seized by Syrian government forces.
Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that the Russian military has been the only source of food, medicine and other supplies for 90,000 residents of Aleppo’s neighborhoods seized by the Syrian army this week.
In Friday’s statement, Konashenkov called on Jan Egeland, a senior U.N. aid official for Syria, to move faster to provide aid to the area.
Russian-backed Syrian government troops have made significant gains in the rebel-held eastern part of the city since the weekend.