The Latest: John Kerry concerned by rhetoric out of Turkey
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the development in the Syrian civil war and the aftermath of the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey (all times local):
John Kerry’s spokesman says the U.S. Secretary of State has raised concerns about “some of the rhetoric coming out of Turkey with respect to American involvement or support, tacit or otherwise, for this unspeakable assassination yesterday because of the presence of Mr. Gulen here in the United States.”
Spokesman John Kirby said called any such claims ludicrous and false.
“We need to let the investigators do their job and we need to let the facts and the evidence take them where it is before we jump to conclusions,” Kirby added. “But any notion that the United States was in any way supportive of this or behind this or even indirectly involved is absolutely ridiculous.”
A Turkish Foreign Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, earlier said that Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Kerry that both Turkey and Russia “know” that a movement led by U.S.-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen was behind the attack.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken by telephone with the foreign ministers of Russia and Turkey after a meeting.
State Department spokesman John Kirby told reporters the U.S. “welcomes any effort to try to get a cease-fire in Syria that can actually have meaningful results, particularly for those people that remain in Aleppo, as well as the resumption of political talks.”
Kirby said that Kerry also “stressed the need to try to get those political talks back on track as soon as people,” adding that it was “too soon to know” if the Moscow declaration would have any impact.
“Given that the meeting just broke up today and given the fact that we have seen repeated promises to appropriately influence the Assad regime ... fail, I think we really need to wait and ascertain the results over the next coming days,” he said.
Israel’s prime minister says he would like to grant medical assistance to Syrians wounded in the battle over the city of Aleppo.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told members of the foreign press in Jerusalem on Tuesday that he has asked Israel’s Foreign Ministry to look into the possibility of bringing non-combatant men, women and children to Israel for medical treatment.
Israel has treated thousands of Syrians wounded in Syria’s nearly six-year civil war, offering them medical treatment in hospitals in Israel.
Netanyahu told reporters, “We see the terrible tragedy of civilians and I’ve asked the Foreign Ministry to seek ways to expand our medical assistance to the civilian casualties of the Syrian tragedy, specifically in Aleppo.”
Syrian TV says a bomb has gone off in western Aleppo where dozens of people were gathered for a Christmas tree-lighting event.
No injuries were reported from Tuesday’s bomb, which went off near Azizieh square in government-controlled western Aleppo.
A reporter for the channel said celebrations resumed a few minutes after the bomb went off. Dozens of Syrians were seen dancing and waving Syrian flags and red balloons to blaring music as they rallied around a giant tree decorated with Christmas lights.
Huge posters of President Bashar Assad and the leaders of Russia and Hezbollah were put up.
The celebration in western Aleppo was taking place on the same day as the evacuation of the last rebels and residents of the former rebel-held enclave in eastern Aleppo was taking place.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu says a cease-fire in Syria should not cover terrorist groups like the Islamic State group and the Fatah al-Sham Front, as well as Lebanon’s Hezbollah which fights on the government side.
Speaking at a Moscow news conference after talks with the foreign ministers of Russia and Iran, Cavusoglu said the global community should target not only IS and Fatah al-Sham but also “other groups including Hezbollah.”
Lebanon’s Hezbollah is allied with Russia and Iran fighting on the Syrian government’s side.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who chaired Tuesday’s talks, did not openly disagree with Cavusoglu. But he mentioned that some groups operating in Syria “were invited by the government of Bashar Assad,” implying that Hezbollah’s presence in Syria is as legitimate as Russia’s own role.
The Iranian minister said that Iran “respects” Turkey’s stance, but added that “other countries don’t accept” it.
A ceremony is being held at Ankara airport for assassinated Russian Ambassador Andrei Karlov, whose body was being flown home to Russia Tuesday.
Karlov’s wife Marina stood in the front row, holding two red carnations. She wept as her husband’s flag-draped coffin was carried by a Turkish honor guard.
Deputy Prime Minister Tugrul Turkes said Karlov had, “become the eternal symbol of Turkish-Russian friendship.”
Karlov was shot dead Monday evening as he delivered a speech at a photo exhibition in the Turkish capital, Ankara. His attacker, Mevlut Mert Altintas, a 22-year-old member of Ankara’s riot police squad, shouted slogans about the battered Syrian city of Aleppo during the attack. He was later killed by police.
Security was tight at the airport, with security forces’ special units securing the area.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Russia, Iran and Turkey are ready to act as guarantors in a peace deal between the Syrian government and the opposition.
He spoke on Tuesday after a meeting of the three countries’ foreign ministers in Moscow — a day after Russia’s ambassador to Turkey was assassinated at an exhibition in Ankara by a policeman who shouted: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”
Lavrov told reporters the three ministers have signed a joint statement which says that Russia, Iran and Turkey “are expressing their willingness to help the Syrian government and the opposition draft an agreement and act as its guarantors.”
Syrian activists say as few as 3,000 people are left in eastern Aleppo awaiting evacuation before the government is to resume full control of the city after nearly six years of war.
Opposition media activist Ahmad Primo said on Tuesday that the next convoy of buses that will evacuate rebels and civilians may well be the last one. Primo spoke to The Associated Press from the Rashideen crossing between government and rebel-held territory in the Aleppo countryside.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 60 buses have entered eastern Aleppo to pick up the remaining 3,000 fighters and their families from the opposition’s last foothold in the war-torn city.
The Observatory’s chief Rami Abdurrahman says the fate of 70 pro-government fighters taken prisoner by rebels over the course of four years of fighting over the rebel enclave remains unknown. He says they were supposed to be handed over to the government as part of an agreement to allow the opposition to evacuate the city
The U.N. humanitarian aid agency says Syria’s government has authorized U.N. plans to send about 20 staffers to monitor evacuations of people from rebel-held parts of eastern Aleppo.
Spokesman Jens Laerke of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday that “we stand ready to increase our presence there.”
The plan comes after the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a resolution on Monday urging the quick deployment of monitors.
Laerke said U.N. staffers “will go there as soon as they can.” He said OCHA cannot estimate how many people remain in eastern Aleppo after buses shuttled some out on Tuesday.
He said about 90 of OCHA’s 100 staffers already in Aleppo are Syrians, and the new deployment would “almost triple” the number of international staffers there.
The spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says the assassination the previous day of Moscow’s ambassador in Turkey plays into the hands of those who want to derail peace talks for Syria.
Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Tuesday that Ambassador Andrei Karlov’s murder “benefits those who want to drive a wedge between Russia and Turkey” as well as hamper “the normalization of the talks ... for a Syrian political settlement.”
Peskov lauded President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to allow Russian investigators to take part in the probe and described the Russians who arrived in Ankara earlier on Tuesday as “good specialists.”
Peskov quoted Putin who had instructed Russian intelligence and Foreign Ministry officials to review security measures for Russian diplomats abroad, but said it’s ultimately up to the countries who host diplomats to ensure their safety.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he hopes that Russia, Iran and Turkey will agree on steps to bring about peaceful settlement in Syria.
Talks involving the foreign ministers of Russia, Iran and Turkey were planned for Tuesday in Moscow, even before the Russian ambassador was assassinated in Ankara on Monday evening.
Lavrov said in televised comments at the start of talks with Iran’s Mohammad Javad Zarif that Moscow wants Tuesday’s talks “to determine the most effective steps that our countries could take to normalize the situation in Syria, bring about an end to violence, and ensure the supply of humanitarian aid along with persisting in the fight against terrorist groups in Syria.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross says 10 more buses have arrived to the west Aleppo countryside in northern Syria evacuating residents from the opposition’s last foothold in eastern Aleppo.
Ingy Sedky, Damascus spokeswoman for the ICRC, says evacuations would continue throughout the day.
The ICRC says 25,000 people have been bused out of east Aleppo since rebels effectively surrendered the area under an Ankara- and Moscow-brokered deal. It’s unclear how many remain.
Meanwhile, Syrian state media say several more buses have arrived to the government-controlled Aleppo countryside after evacuating the sick and wounded from the rebel-besieged Shiite villages of Foua and Kfarya.
The swap evacuations are part of the Aleppo cease-fire deal — Syrian rebels besieging the two villages agreed to allow over 2,000 people to leave from there in exchange for the government allowing civilians and rebels to leave eastern Aleppo.
Pro-government Al-Ikhbariya TV broadcast live images showing buses arriving from Foua and Kfarya, escorted by International Committee of the Red Cross vehicles, on Tuesday.
The Lebanese militant group Hezbollah’s media arm says eight buses left the two villages earlier in the morning. Hezbollah is fighting alongside President Bashar Assad’s forces in Syria.
Russian state television has shown a plane landing at the Ankara airport carrying Russian investigators and Foreign Ministry employees who will take part in the probe into the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the visiting Turkish foreign minister on Tuesday that the presidents of the two countries have agreed that Russian investigators would take part in the probe.
The state-owned Rossiya 24 television broadcast footage of the plane landing in Ankara. The plane would later in the day repatriate the body of Andrei Karlov, who was fatally shot at a photo exhibition on Monday.
The spokesman for the Russian president said earlier in the day that Moscow had dispatched 18 people to help the investigation.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey makes Moscow even more determined to press ahead with Syrian talks that will offer “no concessions to the terrorists.”
Lavrov is hosting the foreign ministers of Turkey and Iran in Moscow on Tuesday in what was expected to be a major meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis.
Lavrov and the visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Tuesday laid flowers at the portrait of Ambassador Andrei Karlov, who was shot dead at an exhibition in Ankara.
The Russian minister said in televised comments that President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke Monday night and “agreed this tragedy makes us more decisive in fighting terrorism and makes our today’s meeting even more important.”
Lavrov says Moscow is willing to seek agreements that will improve the humanitarian situation in Syria and help political progress but “will not offer any concession to terrorists.”
Cavusolgu who told Lavrov at the start of the meeting that the attack happened when he was on his way to Moscow offered his condolences and said that “Turkish people are mourning this loss as much as Russia and the people of Russia.”
The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has overseen the evacuation of 25,000 people from eastern Aleppo since the rebels effectively surrendered the Syrian rebel enclave under an Ankara- and Moscow-brokered deal.
The figure was provided by Robert Mardini, the ICRC’s Mideast regional chief, who posted it on Twitter. Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Damascus, told The Associated Press that Aleppo “evacuation (are) not over yet” and that there are “still thousands remaining” in eastern Aleppo.
Meanwhile, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah says Syrian army troops are to enter the rebels’ last foothold in Aleppo later in the day, marking the return of the entire city to government control.
Hezbollah, which is fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad forces, warned the remaining residents in the rebel enclave to leave “as quickly as possible.”
The warning was distributed through Hezbollah’s media arm on Tuesday.
The last Syrian rebels and civilians are awaiting evacuation from the remainder of what was once a rebel enclave in eastern Aleppo, a day after the U.N. Security Council approved sending observers to monitor the exodus.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that more than 15,000 people, among them 5,000 opposition fighters, have left the enclave since the rebels effectively surrendered the area under an Ankara- and Moscow-brokered deal. It’s unclear how many remain.
In Moscow, the foreign ministers of Russia, Turkey and Iran are meeting on Tuesday to discuss Syria, but the talks are likely to be overshadowed by the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey the previous night by an Ankara policeman, who after killing his victim cried out: “Don’t forget Aleppo! Don’t forget Syria!”