The Latest: More aid allowed into besieged Damascus suburb

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria as a fragile cease-fire enters its third day (all times local):

3:40 p.m.

An official with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent says dozens of trucks carrying aid have started entering a besieged rebel-held suburb of the Syrian capital, Damascus, for the first time since a truce went into effect two days ago.

Muhannad al-Assadi says the 51 trucks are not carrying food, but domestic supplies such as blankets, soap and diapers.

Al-Assadi says Monday’s is the third aid convoy that has been allowed to enter the suburb of Moadamiyeh in recent weeks.

Allowing aid into rebel-held areas has been a main demand by the opposition to return to U.N.-sponsored indirect peace talks in Geneva that collapsed on Feb. 3.

The United Nations says there are nearly half a million people in besieged areas in Syria.


3:30 p.m.

Russia’s deputy foreign minister says Turkish cross-border strikes into Syria undermine the recent cease-fire agreement and will eventually cause its collapse.

Sergei Ryabkov said Monday that Russia is “deeply concerned” about cease-fire violations along the Turkey-Syria border and called Turkish military action in Syria, “inadmissible.”

Ryabkov denied opposition claims that Damascus had also violated the terms of the agreement.

During the Monday press conference in Moscow, Ryabkov emphasized the importance of including the Kurds in peace talks, saying that without their participation, the fragile peace will not hold.

Ryabkov also said Russia is ready to renew working with the United States “in all formats.”


3 p.m.

Syria’s Foreign Ministry is harshly criticizing Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, saying his recent statements demonstrate the kingdom’s “destructive role” in Syria.

Monday’s statement came a day after al-Jubeir reiterated Saudi Arabia’s longstanding position that Syrian President Bashar Assad has no place in the future of Syria and that he must leave power, either peacefully or through military means.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry statement said al-Jubeir’s comments are an attempt to damage a truce brokered by Russia and the U.S. that went into effect Friday at midnight.

It added that al-Jubeir’s comments are “lies meant to boost the morale” of Saudi-backed militants who have suffered setbacks in recent weeks in different parts of Syria thanks to intense Russian airstrikes.


2:30 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says a cessation of hostilities in Syria is holding “by and large” and wants it extended beyond the initial planned duration of two weeks.

Speaking to reporters Monday in Geneva, Ban confirmed receiving a letter from the High Negotiations Committee, the main umbrella opposition group. It urged the U.N. to help “specify the territory covered by the truce to prevent hostilities in the designated inclusion zones.”

Both Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad which has been conducting air strikes over Syria, and the so-called “moderate opposition — excluding U.N.-designated terror groups like the Islamic State group — have pointed to repeated violations of the cessation of hostilities since it took effect Friday at midnight.


2:15 p.m.

The office of the U.N. human rights chief says thousands of people risk starving to death in besieged Syrian towns and villages that are inaccessible to humanitarian aid groups.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein told the opening session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva that some 450,000 people are now trapped in besieged towns and villages in Syria — some for years — and aid deliveries of food, medicine and other aid has been “repeatedly obstructed.”

During his address, al-Hussein said “thousands of people may have starved to death” — but his office issued a statement shortly afterward indicating that he meant to say “thousands risk starving to death.”

Al-Hussein also decried that at least 10 hospitals and other medical sites had been damaged or destroyed by strikes in Syria this year.


1:30 p.m.

The United Nations says it plans to deliver life-saving humanitarian assistance to about 154,000 people living in besieged locations inside Syria over the next five days.

A briefing note sent out by OCHA Monday says the assistance will include food, water and sanitation supplies, as well as non-food items and medicine to people trapped in besieged areas.

It called on all parties to ensure unconditional, unimpeded and sustained access to all 4.6 million people in hard-to-reach or besieged locations across Syria.

The U.N. estimates that close to half a million people in Syria are trapped in areas under blockade across the war-ravaged country.

Aid deliveries are a main opposition demand ahead of the planned resumption of Syrian peace talks in Geneva on March 7.


1 p.m.

The French foreign minister is calling for a meeting “without delay” of a task force to monitor a cessation of hostilities in Syria following reports of air strikes targeting the moderate opposition.

Jean-Marc Ayrault made the comments Monday shortly before addressing a meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

U.N. special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has already been planning a meeting of the task force, led by the United States and Russia, later in the day.

Ayrault told reporters he planned to discuss the “attacks including by air” with de Mistura and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Critics say Russia and Syrian forces have been targeting the moderate opposition.

The cessation of hostilities has largely held despite violations by both sides since it went into effect Friday at midnight.


12:30 p.m.

Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group says it has recovered the body of a senior commander who was killed during fighting in Syria’s northern province of Aleppo.

Hezbollah said Monday the body of Ali Fayyad, known locally as Haj Alaa, was recovered Sunday night in an operation in which Syrian army and Hezbollah special forces took part.

A Russia-U.S.-brokered cease-fire that went into effect on Saturday is largely holding despite violations by both sides.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside government troops in Syria and the forces recently took from Islamic State militants the town of Khanaser and its surroundings in Aleppo.

Fayyad is a Hezbollah veteran who has led major battles against the Israeli army in south Lebanon. Lebanese media say he was among four Hezbollah fighters killed in Aleppo last week.