The Latest: At UN body, Britain focuses on E Ghouta violence

BEIRUT (AP) — The latest on developments regarding Syria (all times local):

11:45 p.m.

Britain has launched an expedited push at the Human Rights Council for greater scrutiny of violence in Syria’s eastern Ghouta region, ultimately seeking to have U.N.-mandated investigators look into and report on the recent upsurge in bloodshed.

The 47-nation body is expected to decide Friday morning whether to hold an “urgent debate” about the crisis of violence in the rebel-held region east of Damascus that has faced blistering air strikes.

The debate would be followed by a vote Friday on a draft resolution circulated by Britain that expresses support for a U.N. Security Council resolution passed over the weekend seeking a 30-day cease-fire, which hasn’t yet been honored.

It also would call on U.N. war crimes investigators focusing on Syria to look specifically at the latest violence in eastern Ghouta.


11:10 p.m.

Turkey’s military says eight of its soldiers were killed in its offensive on a Kurdish-held enclave in northwestern Syria.

In two separate statements late Thursday, the army announced 13 others were wounded in the operation to oust the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, from Afrin. Turkey considers them a terror group, connected to a Kurdish insurgency within its own borders.

The military death toll has now reached 41 since the launch of the operation on Jan. 20.

Private Dogan news agency reported heavy clashes in northwestern Afrin earlier Thursday, where YPG fighters attacked Turkish forces through tunnels. The agency said a Turkish evacuation helicopter could not land after coming under fire until airstrikes cleared the area. The soldiers in critical condition were then evacuated.


10:05 p.m.

The Russian military says militants in eastern Ghouta are carrying out public executions of people who want to leave the suburbs outside Damascus.

Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko, chief of the Russian center for reconciliation of conflicting sides in Syria, said Thursday that “the hotline of the Russian reconciliation center has begun receiving calls about public executions of those who are trying to flee from the enclave.”

The eastern suburbs — a cluster of several towns and villages on Damascus’ eastern edge — have faced a deadly and brutal onslaught for weeks by Syrian government troops, backed by Russia.


7:30 p.m.

The United Nations satellite agency says an analysis of images shows widespread new damage in the opposition-held eastern suburbs of Damascus.

The preliminary analysis conducted by UNOSAT of satellite imagery from eastern Ghouta’s towns of Kafr Batna and Arbeen shows new damage in a 62.5-square-kilometer (24-square-mile) area, with buildings completely destroyed or damaged since Dec. 3.

The analysis released Thursday appears to reflect the ferocious fighting that has occurred in the suburb over the past month.

The eastern suburbs — a cluster of several towns and villages on Damascus’ eastern edge — have faced a deadly and brutal onslaught for weeks by Syrian government troops, backed by Russia.


3:45 p.m.

The United Nations envoy for Syria is insisting that a government-led assault on eastern Ghouta must not devolve into a “copycat” of the bloody siege on northern Aleppo in late 2016.

U.N. and other aid officials have faced an inability to get humanitarian assistance into the rebel-held region east of Damascus and escort out the critically sick and injured despite a U.N. Security Council resolution passed over the weekend calling for a 30-day cease-fire.

The envoy, Staffan de Mistura, says: “We cannot afford to have the luxury of giving up. So any type of feeling that the U.N. is frustrated: Forget it.

“Otherwise, (this) becomes a copycat of Aleppo,” he said.


2:55 p.m.

A top U.N. aid official says five-hour daily pauses in fighting in Syria’s embattled eastern Ghouta region laid out under a “unilateral” plan by Russia are not enough.

Jan Egeland also says the U.N. Security Council resolution over the weekend calling for a 30-day cease-fire has done little to improve the situation in the rebel-held region east of Damascus. Egeland says: “Since it was adopted, it did not get better — it got worse.”

Egeland, who heads humanitarian aid matters in the office of the U.N. Syria envoy, said the Russian plan for the five-hour pauses was “positive” but insufficient.

“I know of no humanitarian actor — zero humanitarian actor — who thinks that five hours is enough for us to be able to deliver relief into eastern Ghouta and to organize orderly medical evacuations out,” he says.

He said a meeting of U.N.’ s humanitarian task force for Syria earlier Thursday discussed the issue of: “Can we sit down now with Russia and others and see whether we can help make this pause/initiative meet humanitarian standards for a pause and a corridor.”


10:45 a.m.

The Russian military is accusing Syria’s rebels of shelling a humanitarian corridor that Moscow set up with the Syrian government, offering residents of Damascus’ besieged eastern suburbs a way out of the embattled enclave.

Maj. Gen. Vladimir Zolotukhin told Russia news agencies on Thursday that the militants who control the suburbs — an area known as eastern Ghouta — are shelling the route, manned by Syrian and Russian forces, and preventing evacuations.

Syrian state news agency SANA said on Wednesday that some shells had landed near the corridor but reported no injuries.

The accusations come on the third and possibly last day of a Russia-ordered “humanitarian pause” in the fighting in the area, known as eastern Ghouta, but no civilians have used the lull to leave the rebel-held suburbs.

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