The Latest: UN hopes intra-Syrian talks to start this month

The Associated Press

The Latest on the developments in the war in Syria (all times local):

11 p.m.

The United Nations says it’s discouraging that an Aug. 1 deadline to start a political transition in Syria is passing with no action — but the U.N. hopes that intra-Syrian talks will start by the end of August.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters that U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura doesn’t want just want talks but “negotiations that can accomplish something.”

He said de Mistura’s deputy, Ramzy Ramzy, was in Damascus Monday and invited Syrian authorities to come to talks by the end of the month.

Haq said the U.N. hopes by that time, “we will have the right atmosphere for productive negotiations.”

The U.N. is waiting for results of U.S.-Russian efforts on behalf of about 20 nations trying to end the Syrian conflict, he said. “Our hope again is that by the end of this month we’ll have intra-Syrian talks going.”


10 p.m.

The United Nations is calling for a restoration of the cessation of hostilities in and around the embattled city of Aleppo and urging all parties to allow the unimpeded delivery of humanitarian aid.

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York that the U.N. is aware of Monday’s crash of a Russian helicopter in rebel-held territory and reports that it was on an operation to deliver aid.

Haq said the U.N. is very concerned that between 250,000 and 275,000 people are trapped in Aleppo and is continuing discussions with Russian and Syrian authorities about ways of ensuring the delivery of aid to the city and other parts of Syria.

Haq said the U.N. delivered food and health items to 71,000 people in the hard-to-reach town of Houla in Homs governorate on Sunday.


7 p.m.

The Russian military says the Syrian army, relying on Russian air cover, has fended off a massive rebel attack intended to break the siege of Aleppo, killing over 800 militants.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian military’s General Staff said about 5,000 militants launched an offensive late Sunday southwest of Aleppo in a bid to rupture the government’s blockade of the rebel-held part of the city. Rudskoi told Monday’s briefing that the rebels also lost 14 tanks, 10 other armored vehicles and over 60 gun trucks. He said the al-Qaida linked Nusra Front spearheaded the offensive.

Rudskoi said 324 civilians so far have left the militant-controlled part of Aleppo through corridors set by the Syrian government last Thursday. He said that 82 militants also have put down weapons.


2:15 p.m.

Videos uploaded online by Syrian opposition activists show the burning wreckage of a Russian helicopter downed in Syria.

The footage was seemingly taken in the first few moments after the helicopter crashed in Idlib province on Monday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says all five aboard the helicopter have been killed. The Defense Ministry says that the Mi-8 helicopter was returning to the Russian air base on the coast after delivering humanitarian goods to the city of Aleppo.

In one video, a rocket pod can be seen next to the wreckage. People standing nearby are seen taking cellphone photos and shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is great in Arabic.

The helicopter appears to have broken up as it crashed. In another video, its tail can be seen lying separately from the aircraft’s body in flames.


1:55 p.m.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman says all five aboard the Russian helicopter downed in Syria have been killed.

Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Monday that “from what we know from information provided by the Defense Ministry, all those who were on the helicopter died.”

He says the Russians “died heroically because they tried to move the aircraft away so to minimize losses on the ground.”

Earlier, the ministry said the helicopter had been shot down but that the fate of the five — three crew members and two officers — was unknown.


1:10 p.m.

The Russian Defense Ministry says a transport helicopter has been shot down in Syria, but the fate of the five people onboard is still unknown.

The ministry says in a statement that the Mi-8 helicopter was shot down on Monday in Idlib province while returning to the Russian air base on the coast after delivering humanitarian goods to the city of Aleppo.

The helicopter had three crew members and two officers from the Russian reconciliation center.


11:50 a.m.

A Syrian military official says government forces have repelled an attack by insurgents that was an attempt to break the siege imposed on rebel-held parts of the northern city of Aleppo.

And in nearby Idlib province, a helicopter gunship was shot down. That was reported by opposition activists.

Two activist groups — the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Observatory and the Local Coordination Committees — say rebels shot down the helicopter over Idlib. It wasn’t clear if the helicopter was Russian or Syrian.

Monday’s developments come a day after Syrian rebels launched the offensive to break up the government’s siege of eastern, rebel-held part of Aleppo.

Opposition activists say intense fighting still ongoing in Aleppo. The military official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations. He did not elaborate.

[source:-US news]