The Latest: Kerry calls for genuine negotiation on Syria – Washington Post

BEIRUT — The Latest developments on the war in Syria, the refugee crisis and security talks in Munich, Germany. (all times local):

2:28 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says a long-term cease-fire in Syria depends on parties to its civil war engaging in “genuine negotiation.”

Meeting in Munich, diplomats from the U.S., Russia and other powers with interests in Syria’s war agreed early Friday to try to secure a “cessation of hostilities” in a week’s time.

Kerry said that “the objective is to achieve a durable long-term cease-fire at some point in time” but that depends on future negotiations. Kerry acknowledged that differences remain over the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad but said “you have to be at the table to deal with that.”


2 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says diplomats meeting in Munich have agreed to work with Syrian parties to implement a “nationwide cessation of hostilities.”

Kerry said early Friday that the target is to implement the cease-fire in a week’s time. He said that would not apply to the Islamic State group and the extremist al-Nusra Front.

Kerry said diplomats from the U.S., Russia and other powers also agreed to “accelerate and expand” the delivery of humanitarian aid immediately, bringing aid to besieged areas.

A working group is to start meeting in Geneva Immediately to oversee that.


9 p.m.

Talks aimed at narrowing differences over Syria and keeping afloat diplomacy to end its civil war have gotten under way in Munich.

Thursday’s meeting of the International Syria Support Group brings together U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov and U.N. Envoy Staffan de Mistura with representatives of regional powers including Saudi Arabia and Iran and European officials.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said everyone’s who is needed to make progress is there.


6:30 p.m.

Germany’s foreign minister says diplomatic efforts to tame Syria’s civil war are at a crossroads and talks need to produce some kind of breakthrough.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday that “if we don’t succeed in breaking the spiral of violence and counter-violence now, this terrible civil war will drag on even longer.”

He says “everyone who is needed” is at a meeting in Munich of major powers with an interest in the conflict.

Steinmeier says he hopes to find a way to restart talks between the Syrian government and opposition soon.

He says that “we need something like a breakthrough here.”


5.40 p.m.

The U.N. human rights chief has described the worsening situation around Aleppo as “grotesque,” and has warned that up to 300,000 people are at risk of being besieged.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement Thursday that about 51,000 civilians have been displaced since the Syrian government’s latest offensive on Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, began last week.

Zeid also points out reports of “numerous airstrikes by Russian and Syrian aircraft” there.

He adds that “the warring parties in Syria are constantly sinking to new depths, without apparently caring in the slightest about the death and destruction they are wreaking across the country.”

Zeid says peace talks must resume as early as possible.

5:25 p.m.

The EU’s foreign policy chief says a meeting Thursday aimed at keeping the Syrian peace process alive won’t be easy, but she is pushing for an immediate cease-fire to be agreed.

Federica Mogherini said that “it will be a very important meeting and the future of Syria and Syrians is in our hands.”

Asked about her message for Russia, she said all concerned agreed in December to facilitate a cease-fire and humanitarian access to besieged cities and “this has to happen immediately.”

Top diplomats from Europe, the Middle East, the United States and Russia are holding talks in Munich aimed at reconciling differences over a proposed cease-fire in Syria. Russia has proposed a cease-fire in March, but officials fear that will allow Moscow and the Syrian government to continue crushing moderate rebels for another three weeks.


4:50 p.m.

Saudi Arabian state television is quoting a military spokesman describing the kingdom’s offer to send ground troops into Syria as an “irreversible decision.”

State television quoted Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri, the Saudi military spokesman, making the statement Thursday.

State television also quoted Asiri as saying Saudi Arabia wanted the U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State group to agree to the kingdom’s deployment.

The statement comes as Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman visited NATO headquarters in Brussels to discuss the Syrian civil war.

A Saudi deployment runs the potentially explosive risk of confrontation between one of the Arab world’s most powerful militaries and forces keeping Syrian President Bashar Assad in power, including Iran.

It also puts pressure on Washington and other Western nations to do more to end the conflict.


4.00 p.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have opened talks in Munich trying to reconcile deep differences over a proposed cease-fire for the Syrian civil war. They were meeting as other U.S. and Russian officials traded allegations of bombing civilian areas in the besieged city of Aleppo.

Russia has proposed a March 1 cease-fire but Washington believes that will only give Moscow and the Syrian government three weeks to crush moderate rebel groups. The U.S. has countered with a demand for an immediate truce.

As they began their meeting at a Munich hotel, Kerry declined to speculate on whether an agreement could be reached. “We’re going to have a serious conversation about all aspects about what’s happening in Syria,” he said. “Obviously, at some point in time, we want to make progress on the issues of humanitarian access and cease-fire. We will talk about all aspects of the conflict.”

Lavrov said that Russia had already submitted a “quite specific” proposal and “we will wait for the American response before we take it to the ISSG.” The ISSG is the International Syria Support Group, a grouping of about 20 countries with interests in the conflict, that is due to meet later Thursday in Munich.


3.00 p.m.

The Baghdad spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group refuted Russian claims that American planes bombed Aleppo hospitals, saying the incident is an example of the Russian “indiscriminate” use of force.

The Russian Ministry of Defense rejected the pentagon’s claim Wednesday that Russian aircraft hit two hospitals in Aleppo saying that it was U.S. aircraft that operated over the city Wednesday. Russian defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday that Russian jets hit targets no closer than 20 kilometers away from Aleppo. Konashenkov said that two A-10 ground attack jets of the U.S. Air Force flew in from Turkey Wednesday and attacked Aleppo

Col. Steve Warren, the Baghdad-based spokesman, told the Associated Press that Russian aircraft in Syria are using “dumb” bombs, and “indiscriminately scattering those bombs across populated areas regardless of whether those populated areas have women and children, civilians or hospitals.”


1.00 p.m.

The U.N. humanitarian agency says an estimated 120,000 people are trapped in a northern rural area of Homs, Syria, with no access to new supplies amid blistering air strikes by government and allied forces.

In a “flash update” on Thursday, OCHA points to reports of acute malnutrition among pregnant women and children as well as deaths from a lack of medical care, and warns that the situation could worsen in the coming weeks if aid or goods aren’t allowed in.

The U.N. agency says humanitarian groups have not been able to deliver aid to Homs since October and are awaiting authorization to send in “lifesaving supplies.”

It said two enclaves north of Homs have faced stricter controls by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces and allied forces since last month.


12:30 p.m.

U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter says he expects a gathering of more than two dozen countries contributing to the war against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq to endorse a U.S. plan for accelerating the campaign this year.

Speaking to reporters Thursday at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Carter said he would lay out details of the campaign plan in an afternoon meeting with allies and non-NATO partners such as Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

In doing so, he will ask the others to find ways to increase or broaden their contributions — either militarily or in other ways such as financial contributions.

Carter said the U.S. is determined to accelerate the war campaign and recapture as soon as possible the Islamic State’s main strongholds in Syria and Iraq.


12:30 p.m.

Turkey’s president has renewed a call for the establishment of a secure, no-fly zone in Syria, saying it is the only way to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday also pressed ahead with his verbal attack on the United Nations, which has demanded that it open its border to a new wave of Syrian refugees. Erdogan said the world body should be focusing on ending an “ethnic cleansing” unfolding around the Syrian city of Aleppo instead of making demands on Turkey.

In his address to a business group in Ankara, Erdogan also labeled its ally Washington as “blind” for not recognizing a Syrian Kurdish group which is affiliated with the Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels as a terrorist group.


12:15 p.m.

A senior Russian diplomat says Moscow opposes plans to establish a “safe zone” along the Turkey-Syria border.

Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov said in an interview with the Interfax news agency on Thursday that Moscow opposes “any attempts” by the U.S.-led coalition to deploy troops in Syria’s north without asking the Syrian government or the UN Security Council first. Syromolotov said Russia will consider this as an “act of direct military intervention” if it happens.

Tens of thousands of Syrians have fled to the border with Turkey following a Syrian government offensive around the rebel-held city of Aleppo backed by Russian airstrikes.

11:45 a.m.

The Russian defense ministry says its airstrikes have hit about 1,900 targets in Syria in the past week.

The defense ministry in a statement on Thursday listed the targets in the provinces of Aleppo, Latakia, Hama, Deir ez-Zor, Daraa, Homs, Hasakah and Raqqa.

A Syrian government offensive around the city of Aleppo backed by Russian airstrikes has sent tens of thousands fleeing to the Turkish border. Critics say the offensive has contributed to the collapse of peace talks in Geneva last week.

Moscow on Thursday accused the militants in control of Aleppo of “coercing civilians” to flee to the border in a hope to cross into Turkey with them. The defense ministry rejected accusations of targeting residential areas of Aleppo, arguing that the footage of the aftermath of the airstrikes there that Western media have been broadcasting was filmed long before Russia began carrying out airstrikes in Syria last September.


10:30 a.m.

The Russian defense ministry has lashed out at the U.S.-led coalition in Syria for refusing to provide intelligence on Islamic State targets there.

Defense Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said in a statement on Thursday that Russia has shared its own intelligence with the United States that it has “gratefully taken” but has not reciprocated.

Konashenkov said Russia has repeatedly asked the U.S. and its allies for intelligence in response to the accusations that Russians are targeting the “wrong objects.”

A Syrian government offensive around the city of Aleppo backed by Russian airstrikes has sent tens of thousands fleeing to the Turkish border, putting peace talks in Geneva in jeopardy.


9:45 a.m.

An opposition activist group and a rebel say Kurdish fighters and their allies have captured a military air base in northern Syria.

Abdul-Jabbar Abu Thabet, a local rebel commander in the Aleppo province, said Thursday that Mannagh air base fell to the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, and their allies after fierce battles.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the offensive came as warplanes believed to be Russian carried out 30 airstrikes in the area. It said the air base and a nearby village, also called Mannagh, fell late Wednesday.

With Syrian troops backed by Russian warplanes waging a major offensive between the northern city of Aleppo and the Turkish border, the Kurds appeared to be exploiting the chaos to expand their nearby enclave, known as Afrin.

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