The Latest: Turkey says 2 soldiers missing in Syria
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Turkey’s military has reported that two of its soldiers have gone in missing in northern Syria, where it is active against Islamic State militants and Kurdish fighters.
In a statement posted on its website, the Turkish Armed Forces said Tuesday search efforts were underway after it had lost contact with two soldiers at 3:30 p.m.
The Islamic State group’s Aamaq News Agency said IS fighters have captured two Turkish soldiers near al-Dana village northwest of al-Bab in northern Syria.
That claim could not be immediately confirmed. The army statement made no mention of where the soldiers went missing or of a possible kidnapping. Turkish officials could not be reached for comment.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, also reported the incident as taking place in al-Dana but made no mention of IS.
A Syrian hard-line rebel faction says it has appointed a new leader, following what observers say was a divisive internal debate over the group’s direction.
The ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group announced Tuesday it had appointed Ali al-Omar, also known as Abu Ammar al-Omar, as its new leader.
Washington-based Middle East Institute Scholar Charles Lister says al-Omar is a middle-ground figure who will be tasked with reconciling Ahrar al-Sham’s divided leadership.
Several leading figures, including the group’s former military commander, advocate merging with al-Qaida’s affiliate in Syria, one of the most dominant factions fighting against the government. Others wish to see the group aligned to the more mainstream, but militarily weaker, Free Syrian Army.
Ahrar al-Sham, which enjoys Turkish backing, is one of the leading rebel factions in northern Syria.
The Russian military says it’s sending a field hospital to Aleppo.
The Defense Ministry’s statement Tuesday comes as the Syrian government forces are pressing their offensive into the rebel-controlled neighborhoods of Aleppo.
The ministry said the hospital would house up to 100 patients and provide assistance to another 420 daily. It said the hospital equipment is now being loaded onto military transport planes to be delivered to Syria. More than 250,000 people are believed trapped in Aleppo with limited access to food, water and medical supplies. They include more than 100,000 children, the U.N. says.
Helped by Russian air power and thousands of Iranian-backed Shiite militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, Syrian government forces have captured more than a third of opposition-controlled areas in eastern Aleppo.
Britain’s U.N. ambassador is calling on the Syrian regime and their backers in Russia and Iran to stop the bombing in Aleppo and allow humanitarian aid into the besieged city.
Matthew Rycroft said Tuesday that there is a plan in place to get food and medicine in and allow the sick and wounded to get out, but the U.N. is waiting for Syria’s green light to go ahead.
“Russia complained that the armed opposition had not agreed that plan. Well, they have now agreed that plan so I now call on Russia to make sure that the Syrian regime can agree that plan. If there is that agreement then that plan can go ahead,” Rycroft told reporters before heading in to the closed Security Council meeting on chemical weapons in Syria.
The U.N. food aid agency says it’s mobilizing food stocks to help thousands of people in Syria fleeing fighting in rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo and is appealing for “unconditional, unimpeded, sustained and safe” access to civilians in need around the country.
World Food Program spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said “if access is granted,” the agency could mobilize food in government-held western Aleppo or in Turkey to send to people trapped on its eastern side where Syrian government forces and allies are leading an offensive.
Also in Geneva on Tuesday, spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani of the U.N. human rights office said tens of thousands of civilians trapped in opposition-controlled areas are “living under constant bombardment.”
Shamdasani also cited reports that opposition groups have been preventing civilians from leaving areas under their control.
A senior military official in Damascus says security measures are in place to secure and vet the thousands of people fleeing rebel-held eastern Aleppo to government territories.
The official says the measures aim to ensure that no opposition fighters are fleeing among the civilians and no terrorist attacks are carried out during the influx of thousands of displaced residents. The official said 20,000 left besieged Aleppo Tuesday.
He denied any revenge attacks or arbitrary detention took place. The official spoke to The Associated Press by telephone on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.
The official said it is not clear how long the Aleppo offensive would last, describing collapsing moral and opposition defenses in a campaign he said mobilized a large segment of army troops to eradicate what he called “terrorists.”
A Syrian opposition monitoring group says at least 10 civilians have been killed in an airstrike on a district of the rebel-held eastern part of Aleppo city.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the airstrike Tuesday in Bab al-Nairab district also injured a dozen others, while many remain missing amid intense bombing of several opposition-held areas. The search and rescue team of Syrian Civil Defense says at least 25 were killed in the airstrike that hit displaced civilians fleeing from government ground advances into opposition areas. There was no way to independently verify the claim or reconcile the different death tolls.
Syrian government and allied troops have pushed their way into northern parts of the besieged enclave. The UN says up to 16,000 have been displaced by the government advances.
France’s foreign minister is calling for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting to try to stop the fighting in the Syrian city of Aleppo and bring in humanitarian aid.
Jean-Marc Ayrault issued the call in a statement Tuesday after Syrian government forces captured more than a third of opposition-held eastern Aleppo on Monday. Civilians fled as rebel defenses in the city rapidly collapsed, in what could herald a key victory for President Bashar Assad.
Ayrault said he will meet Wednesday in Paris with the head of Aleppo’s district councils, Brita Hagi Hasan. “More than ever, it is urgent to put in place a stop to hostilities and allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid,” the French foreign minister said.
France has supported Syrian opposition groups resisting Assad’s Russian-backed forces.
The United Nations’ humanitarian chief says initial reports indicate some 16,000 people have been displaced following Syrian government advances on rebel-held Aleppo districts.
Stephen O’Brien says Tuesday that thousands more are likely to flee if fighting continues to spread in the coming days. He says the fleeing civilians are heading to uncertain and precarious situations amid intense attacks. O’Brien expresses concern for the civilians’ fate, calling the situation in Aleppo “deeply alarming and chilling.”
In swift and dramatic advances, Syrian government and allied troops pushed their way into northern parts of opposition held eastern Aleppo, touching off a wave of panic and flight from the besieged enclave.
Many of the fleeing civilians headed to government and Kurdish-controlled areas while others were driven deeper into the remaining rebel-held areas.