The Latest: Aid official describes desperation in Ghouta

The Latest: Aid official describes desperation in Ghouta
The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the war in Syria (all times local):

5:45 p.m.

An official with the International Committee for the Red Cross says aid workers who were on a humanitarian mission inside eastern Ghouta saw rescuers trying to pull corpses from the rubble of buildings.

Pawel Krzysiek, head of communications at ICRC Syria, says the situation in the opposition-held Damascus suburb is “desperate.”

Speaking on Tuesday, a day after a rare humanitarian mission to eastern Ghouta that was cut short because of the shelling, he says schools have stopped and some children have not seen daylight for 15 days. Many residents are hungry.

“We left with heavy hearts,” Krzysiek said in a video distributed by the ICRC.

He appealed for a sustainable solution to the security situation in eastern Ghouta so that more aid could be brought in

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4 p.m.

Russia says a military cargo plane has crashed at the Russian air base in Syria, killing all 32 people onboard.

The Defense Ministry says the An-26, with 26 passengers and six crew members onboard, crashed Tuesday just 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the runway. The military blamed the crash on a technical error.

Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, leases a military base in Syria near the Mediterranean coast.

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2 p.m.

U.N. war crimes investigators say a Russian plane was apparently behind a deadly airstrike in November in Syria’s Idlib province that killed 84 people at a marketplace, an attack which could amount to a war crime.

The findings were reported by the U.N.’s Commission of Inquiry on Syria on Tuesday.

It’s the first time the commission has pinned responsibility for civilian deaths in Syria on Russia. The report says “all available information” indicates a Russian plane carried out the Nov. 13 airstrike that hit a market, surrounding houses and a police station run by Western-backed Syrian rebels in the town of Atarib, in northern Idlib.

At least 84 people were killed and about another 150 were wounded in the attack.

The commission, which was created 6-1/2 years ago to document alleged human rights violations by any side in Syria’s war, says the plane that carried out the airstrike took off from an air base in Syria run by Russian forces, the Hemeimeem air base.

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12:30 p.m.

A war-monitoring group says Syrian government shelling and airstrikes killed 80 people in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus the previous day, making it the deadliest day there since the U.N.’s Security Council last month demanded a cease-fire across Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says 80 died and dozens more were wounded on Monday as government forces ignored the U.N. call and pressed their assault on the rebel-held eastern Ghouta.

The United Nations estimates 400,000 people are trapped under a government siege in the area.

The Syrian American Medical Society charity, which supports several hospitals in eastern Ghouta, gave a slightly lesser death toll from the Observatory, saying 79 people were killed.

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12:05 p.m.

The Russian defense ministry has extended an offer to Syrians in the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus, saying armed rebels with their families — not just civilians — can also leave eastern Ghouta through a safe corridor.

The ministry says its negotiators in Syria late on Monday called on all rebels leaders in eastern Ghouta to allow civilians leave the area, which has been under a crippling siege for weeks. It says the rebels are also free to leave the enclave with their weapons and families unhindered.

The first shipment of humanitarian aid reached eastern Ghouta on Monday but was cut short on Tuesday after Syrian government forces began shelling the area again.

Russia has been a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, helping him the tide of the bloody civil war in his favor.

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10:55 a.m.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry says the country plans to establish camps in nine locations in northern Syria to house people displaced by fighting amid Ankara’s offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said on Tuesday that the camps would be built in a zone controlled by Turkish-backed forces, as well as in Idlib province where Turkish forces are trying establishing a “de-escalation zone” under an agreement reached between Turkey, Russia and Iran.

Aksoy said the camps would host a total of 170,000 people.

Turkey controls a swath of territory revolving around the town of al-Rai, al-Bab and Jarablus — a border zone that Turkey and Turkey-backed rebels took from the Islamic State group in 2016.

Turkey has also launched a campaign to oust a Syrian Kurdish militia from the enclave of Afrin that Ankara considers to be “terrorist” and linked to an insurgency within Turkey’s own borders.

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10:45 a.m.

The International Committee for the Red Cross says it was forced to halt aid delivery to the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus the previous day after the security situation deteriorated while aid workers were on the ground.

Ingy Sedky, the ICRC spokeswoman in Syria says most of the aid from a 46-truck convoy was delivered to the town of Douma in eastern Ghouta on Monday but the mission was cut short before the rest of the supplies could be unloaded.

Iyad Abdelaziz, a member of the Douma Local Council, says nine aid trucks had to leave the area after government shelling and airstrikes intensified in the evening.

Monday’s shipment was the first to enter eastern Ghouta amid weeks of a crippling siege and a government assault that has killed hundreds.

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