The Latest: Turkish army strikes convoy near Syria’s Afrin

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BEIRUT (AP) – The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

5 p.m.

Turkey’s military has said it hit a convoy carrying weapons and ammunition in the countryside of a Kurdish-held enclave in northern Syria.

In a statement published Friday, the army said Turkish artillery hit the 30 to 40-vehicle convoy of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in southeastern Afrin. Aerial video accompanying the statement showed the alleged strike.

Turkey launched a military offensive on Jan. 20 to clear Afrin from the YPG, which it considers a terror group.

The YPG accused Turkey of bombing a convoy of civilians that was crossing into Afrin to protest Turkey’s offensive, leading to casualties.

But the Turkish military said multiple explosions were proof the convoy was carrying ammunition. “As always, utmost attention and care has been shown to not hurt civilians,” Friday’s statement added.

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4:50 p.m.

U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has called again for an urgent ceasefire to relieve the “appalling suffering” of civilians in eastern suburbs of the Syrian capital Damascus by stopping the bombing there and the “indiscriminate” mortar shelling of Syria’s capital Damascus.

Syrian government forces have been pounding eastern suburbs of Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, for days killing more than 400 since Sunday.

U.N. spokesperson Alessandra Vellucci said in a statement read at news briefing in Geneva Friday that “the ceasefire needs to be followed by immediate, unhindered humanitarian access to eastern Ghouta and evacuation of sick and injured.”

De Mistura’s statement called upon the three guarantor countries of the so-called “Astana process – Russia, Iran and Turkey” to urgently meet to reinstall de-escalation zones in Syria saying that there cannot be a repetition of what happened in Aleppo 14 months ago.

In the summer of 2016, government forces launched a wide offensive on rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of the northern city of Aleppo forcing rebels and their families to leave the area.

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3:40 p.m.

The U.N. Security Council has scheduled a vote at 11 a.m. EST Friday on a resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire across Syria to deliver humanitarian aid to millions and evacuate the critically ill and wounded.

The draft resolution to be voted on rejects Russia’s proposed amendments which would delay any cease-fire.

Whether Russia vetoes or abstains on the resolution remains to be seen.

Russia’s amended U.N. resolution would rule out an immediate 30-day cease-fire in Syria to deliver aid and evacuate the critically ill proposed by Sweden and Kuwait and backed by most of the U.N. Security Council.

Several council diplomats who examined the Russian draft, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said it was unacceptable.

The final draft of the Swedish-Kuwait resolution orders the cease-fire to start 72 hours after the resolution’ adoption.

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2:25 p.m.

A main Syrian opposition group is calling on the international community to prevent Russia from voting on a new U.N. Security Council resolution saying Moscow is part of the conflict in the Arab country.

Russia has been a main backer for Syrian President Bashar Assad and has joined the battle on his side since 2015 tipping the balance of power in his favor. Opposition activists say Russian warplanes are taking part in bombarding rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus, also known as eastern Ghouta, where more than 400 people have been killed since Sunday.

Salwa Aksoy, vice president of the Syrian National Coalition, told reporters in Turkey that according to the United Nations charter countries that are part of a conflict have no right to vote on draft resolutions.

Sweden and Kuwait were seeking a vote on a resolution ordering a 30-day cease-fire to allow relief agencies to deliver aid and evacuate the critically sick and wounded from besieged areas to receive medical care.

But Russia’s U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia put forward last-minute amendments, saying the proposed resolution was “simply unrealistic.” A new vote was likely Friday.

Aksoy said in Turkey Friday that “what is happening in Ghouta is a war of annihilation and crimes against humanity.” She blamed Assad’s government as well as his backers Russia and Iran for the violence.

She said over the past three months more than 2,000 civilians have been killed, nearly 5,000 wounded and 32 medical centers and clinics have been destroyed.

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10:20 a.m.

Human Rights Watch is criticizing the way Turkey is conducting its offensive in northern Syria, saying it has failed to take necessary precautions to avoid civilian casualties.

The New York-based group cites three attacks in the Afrin region in late January that it says killed a total of 26 civilians, including 17 children.

In a statement Friday, it called on Turkey to thoroughly investigate these strikes and make the findings public.

Turkey launched an air and ground offensive in the Kurdish-controlled region on Jan. 20, saying it aims to clear Afrin of Syrian Kurdish militia which Turkey considers to be an offshoot of its own outlawed Kurdish rebels fighting within Turkey.

According to several estimates around 120 civilians have been killed so far in the offensive. Turkey denies hitting civilians.

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