The Latest: UN official says monitors to go to Aleppo soon


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):

2:15 p.m.

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.

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12:40 p.m.

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 that allow to spur and join (our) efforts for 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.

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12:30 p.m.

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 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, ensure the supply of humanitarian aid along with persistent fight on terrorist groups in Syria.”

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11:45 a.m.

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.

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11:35 a.m.

Russian state television has shown a plane landing at the Ankara airport carrying Russian investigators and foreign ministry employees who are to take part in the probe into the assassination of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey the day before.

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 dispatched 18 people to help the investigation.

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11:30 a.m.

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 to 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 President Recep Tayyip Erdogan late on Monday “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 procession 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.”

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10:55 a.m.

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 militia’s media arm on Tuesday.

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9:30 a.m.

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, 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!”

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