The Latest: Assad calls for parliament elections in April
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the civil war in Syria (all times local):
Syrian President Bashar Assad has called for parliamentary elections to be held in April.
A U.N. Security Council resolution adopted in December calls for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held during an 18-month transition period that would end the five-year-old conflict in Syria.
But the country was due for parliament elections anyway, as the current parliament’s term expires in May. Assad announced in a decree issued Monday that new parliament elections would be April 13. Such elections are held once every four years.
The announcement came hours after the U.S. and Russia agreed on a temporary cessation of hostilities for Syria that will take effect Saturday, even as major questions over enforcing the truce were left unresolved.
The U.N. special envoy for Syria says he will convene a task force designed to help monitor a new cease-fire agreement as soon as it takes effect later this week.
Staffan de Mistura says the cease-fire reached by the United States and Russia and set to begin at midnight Saturday in Syria gives the two world powers the task of making sure that everyone else abides by it, too.
The agreement does not apply to the Islamic State group or the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. De Mistura emphasized the U.N. considers them terrorist groups, and “no one else.”
Russia, a strong backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has faced claims that its airstrikes have hit opposition groups that Moscow considers terrorist groups, but the U.N. does not.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister says his country welcomes the cease-fire plan for Syria and hopes that it is implemented.
Numan Kurtulmus said after a Cabinet meeting on Monday that Turkey also hopes that Russia ceases its air campaign in northern Syria, which he said kills “innocent civilians under the guise of the struggle against” the Islamic State group.
The minister reiterated Turkey’s position that Syrian President Bashar Assad should step down, saying “our wish is that those who have committed crimes against their people are not given a say over Syria’s future.
The United States and Russia have agreed on a plan for a cease-fire in Syria starting Saturday that would exclude attacks on the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s local affiliate.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has welcomed the cessation of hostilities in Syria announced by Russia and the United States and says that, if respected, the agreement would constitute a significant step forward.
In a statement issued Monday, Ban said the agreement marks the first step toward a more durable cease-fire and also contributes to an environment conducive for the resumption of negotiations.
He says: “Above all, it is a long-awaited signal of hope to the Syrian people that after five years of conflict there may be an end to their suffering in sight.”
Ban warns that much work lies ahead for the implementation of the agreement and called on the parties to remain steadfast in their resolve.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin have spoken about a new cease-fire for Syria set to take effect Saturday.
The two leaders spoke by phone at Putin’s request. The White House says Obama welcomed the agreement but told Putin that the Syrian government and opposition groups now must faithfully implement the cease-fire.
The State Department has released a five-page plan detailing the terms of the deal that leaves key questions about enforcement and responding to violations unresolved.
The White House says Obama also urged Putin to honor a cease-fire deal in Ukraine and support free elections in eastern Ukraine.
9: 15 p.m.
Russian President Vladimir Putin says the cease-fire for Syria agreed upon with the United States is a “real chance to put an end to the many years of bloodshed and violence.”
Speaking on Russian television late Monday, Putin portrayed the agreement as the result of intense, joint work by the Russians and Americans, which he said should provide an example to the world in the fight against terrorism.
Putin said Moscow would work with the Syrian government and expects the United States to do the same with the opposition groups that it supports.
A Syrian official says a temporary truce will not stop the government and its allies from striking the Islamic State group, an al-Qaida affiliate “and other terrorist groups.”
Omar Osso, a member of parliament who was on the Syrian negotiating team in Geneva earlier this month, said a truce might be “relatively successful” in some areas but said the government has the right to continue to combat terrorism.
He told The Associated Press in Damascus that he was “not optimistic that clashes will stop because we are dealing with criminals who have hundreds of state sponsors” and various loyalties.
U.S. officials say Washington and Moscow agreed Monday on a new cease-fire for Syria that will take effect Saturday.
The leader of a Saudi-backed Syrian opposition alliance says that rebel factions have agreed “in principle” to an internationally mediated temporary truce.
Riad Hijab, who heads the group known as the High Negotiations Committee, also called on Russia, Iran and the Syrian government to stop their attacks, lift blockades and release prisoners in Syria.
His statement on Monday did not elaborate on the terms of the truce reached.
U.S. officials earlier said the United States and Russia agreed on a plan for a cease-fire in Syria starting Saturday that would exclude attacks on the Islamic State group and al-Qaida’s local affiliate.
U.S. officials say the United States and Russia have agreed on a plan that would create a cease-fire in Syria starting Saturday.
The officials said Monday that the two sides have agreed on the terms and conditions for the “cessation of hostilities,” as they call it.
The truce excludes attacks on the Islamic State group and the Nusra Front, al-Qaida’s local affiliate.
An announcement is expected after Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin speak on the matter by telephone.
The officials weren’t authorized to speak about the matter publicly and demanded anonymity.
— Bradley Klapper
The U.N. special envoy for Syria says deadly weekend bombings in Homs and a Damascus suburb claimed by the Islamic State group suggest it is feeling “cornered” amid an intensified diplomatic push to end the country’s five-year war.
Staffan de Mistura told The Associated Press on Monday that this week is shaping up as crucial in the diplomatic efforts to help end the war, though he declined to provide details of the negotiations.
The U.N. said earlier that de Mistura “strongly condemns” Sunday’s explosions in Homs and the Sayyida Zeinab suburb that killed nearly 130 people.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has said a “provisional agreement” has been reached on a cessation of hostilities that could begin in coming days. Diplomats say some details remain to be worked out.
The Turkish foreign minister says a land operation by Saudi Arabia and Turkey in Syria has never been on the agenda.
Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday dismissed speculation about such an operation as “disinformation and manipulation.”
The minister said: “A land operation of Saudi Arabia and Turkey in Syria has never been on the agenda, and it is not on the agenda.”
However, Turkey views ground operations as necessary and would be a willing partner if the notion got approval from a broader coalition, an official said last week. The country raised the issue in recent talks with the U.S. and other Western nations, said the Turkish official, who spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
The U.S., Russia and other world powers agreed Feb. 12 in Munich to bring about a pause in hostilities that would allow for the delivery of humanitarian aid and the revival of peace talks.
—By Dominique Soguel
A Syrian opposition activist group says heavy fighting has cut off the government’s only supply route to the northeastern city of Aleppo.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says clashes were underway Monday along the southeastern approaches to the city, which is bitterly divided between the government and the rebels, and also around the town of Khanaser.
The Observatory tracks Syria’s civil war. A news agency close to the Islamic State group said the extremist group’s fighters had cut the road.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and one-time commercial center, is divided between the government and its opponents, while IS holds a wide front to the east of the city.
Fighting has been fierce in Aleppo province in recent weeks amid a government offensive to cut off the rebel stronghold.