The Latest: Mortar Fire on Russian Embassy in Syria
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
DEC. 28, 2016, 7:12 A.M. E.S.T.
BEIRUT — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
Russia says its embassy in the Syrian capital has been hit by mortar fire.
The Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday that a mortar round landed in the embassy courtyard without exploding, and another fell in the vicinity. The ministry says sappers have been called in to remove the device.
Russian officials blamed the attack on "extremists" opposed to a peaceful settlement of Syria’s conflict.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has been battling a revolt against his family’s four-decade rule since 2011.
Turkey’s ruling party says the government is pushing for a Syrian cease-fire to be in place "as we enter 2017."
Yasin Aktay, the spokesman for the Justice and Development Party, could not however confirm a report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency that said Turkey and Russia had reached an agreement for a nationwide cease-fire and were working to ensure that it would come into effect after midnight Wednesday.
Aktay told reporters: "Talks are taking place. Turkey’s insistence is ... to bring the sides together and for a cease-fire to come about as we enter 2017."
The Russian Foreign Ministry says the United Nations envoy for Syria has promised to help negotiate a cease-fire in Syria and assist with proposed peace talks in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan.
The ministry said in a statement that Staffan de Mistura welcomed the results of last week’s talks between Russia, Turkey and Iran in a phone call Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
It said de Mistura "expressed the U.N. readiness to help implement them, including the preparation of a cease-fire agreement between the Syrian government and the armed opposition and the holding of talks in Astana." No date for those talks has been set yet.
In the conversation, Lavrov also accused some U.N. officials of spreading disinformation about the situation in Syria to "incite anti-government rhetoric" and urged the U.N. to speed up aid deliveries to Aleppo.
1: 45 p.m.
Turkish media reports are quoting Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as saying a lasting cease-fire and political solution in Syria are "close."
His comments to a small group of journalists on Wednesday, and reported by state television and other media, come hours after the state-run news agency said Russia and Turkey had reached an agreement for a cease-fire plan comprising the whole of Syria.
Cavusoglu said terror organizations would be kept out of the cease-fire agreement, CNN Turk television reported. He said that Turkey’s offensive against the Islamic State group and Syrian Kurdish forces in northern Syria would continue.
Sabah newspaper also quoted the Turkish minister as saying the cease-fire could come into effect "at any moment."
Syrian opposition factions say they are withholding judgment on a Russian-Turkish brokered cease-fire until they receive details about its terms.
An official with one of the country’s rebel factions told The Associated Press the proposed agreement would cover all of Syria. Rebels have spoken up in the past against proposals that would allow the government to continue its offensives around the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The proposal was first reported by Turkish state media on Wednesday. There has been no official comment from Turkish or Russian officials.
The official said intense discussions were underway between the opposition factions.
Another official with a different group said the proposal has not been formally presented to the opposition.
"It is difficult to accept or refuse the matter before we look at the details, of course," said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to bias intra-opposition talks.
— Philip Issa in Beirut
President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says Russia and Turkey are in "constant contact" to prepare for planned Syria peace talks in Kazakhstan.
Dmitry Peskov wouldn’t comment on Wednesday’s report by Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency that claimed Moscow and Ankara had reached an agreement on a plan for a cease-fire comprising the whole of Syria. The report quoting unnamed sources said the two countries were working to ensure that the cease-fire would come into effect at midnight Wednesday.
Peskov said he had no information on the subject. He added in a conference call with reporters that Russia and Turkey are in "constant contact to discuss various modalities of a possible dialogue planned in Astana," the capital of Kazakhstan. Neither country has announced a date for these proposed talks.
A top Russian diplomat says a draft U.N. Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on Syria for chemical weapons use is unacceptable to Moscow, which has veto power on the council.
A resolution drafted by Britain and France, which was obtained by The Associated Press, would impose sanctions on an array of Syrian individuals, organizations and companies allegedly involved in chemical weapons attacks in the warring country. It would also ban sales of helicopters to Syria.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was quoted by the state news agency Tass on Wednesday as saying the resolution "is categorically unacceptable to us. We warn them against attempts to fan tensions in the U.N. Security Council."
Syrian activists say at least 20 civilians have been killed in an airstrike on an Islamic State-held village in Deir el-Zour province in eastern Syria.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group reported Wednesday that several unknown warplanes bombed the village of Hajna the night before, killing 12 people from one family and 10 from another. It said at least 10 children were killed.
The activist group Deir Ezzor 24 said no one in the two families survived.
Turkey’s state-run news agency says Turkey and Russia have reached an agreement on a plan for a cease-fire comprising the whole of Syria.
The Anadolu Agency, quoting unnamed sources on Wednesday, said the two countries were working to ensure that the cease-fire would come into effect after midnight.
It said however that terror organizations would be kept outside of the cease-fire agreement, without elaborating on which insurgent groups would be considered terror organizations. It said a peace process in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana would go ahead under Russia and Turkey’s leadership if the cease-fire holds. Anadolu said the two countries would act as "guarantors" of the peace process.
There was no immediate confirmation from Turkey’s Foreign Ministry.