The Latest: UN Security Council renews Syria cease-fire call

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BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria's seven-year civil war (all times local):

7:55 p.m.

The U.N. Security Council is again demanding a cease-fire throughout Syria and backing a U.N.-endorsed roadmap for a peaceful transition and elections in the conflict-torn country.

The council reaffirmed in a statement following a briefing Friday by the U.N. envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, that U.N.-led talks in Geneva "remain the central process to find a political solution."

Council members reiterated their "full support" for de Mistura's mandate to establish a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria "without delay."

The council expressed its "deepest concerns" and joined de Mistura in condemning the perpetrators of violence in Damascus and the rebel-held suburbs of eastern Ghouta in violation of the Feb. 24 cease-fire resolution.

Members also "reiterated their call for unconditional, unimpeded and sustained humanitarian access and urged all parties to the conflict to strictly adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law to protect civilians."


7:30 p.m.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is urging the often divided Security Council "to stand united and take concrete steps to urgently end this tragedy."

He called for swift action to protect civilians, prevent further instability across Syria and forge "a durable political solution" to the seven-year conflict.

The U.N. chief said he "profoundly" regrets that the council resolution adopted Feb. 24 demanding a cease-fire throughout Syria without delay to deliver humanitarian aid and evacuate the wounded and critically ill "has not been implemented."

He expressed deep concern in a statement Friday at "the desperation shown by the people fleeing in a massive exodus from eastern Ghouta and Afrin."

Guterres stressed that any evacuation of civilians must be safe and voluntary.

He said the U.N. and its partners "are fully mobilized to bring immediate life-saving relief to all those in need."

U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters the U.N. visited three of the collective shelters in the Damascus area where people who left eastern Ghouta have arrived Friday and is delivering emergency items including food, mattresses, blankets and hygiene kits.


6:50 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria says despite a six-day cease-fire holding in the city of Douma, violence has escalated elsewhere in the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus and across many other parts of Syria "where there is no cease-fire to speak of."

Staffan de Mistura said Turkish government forces and their allies "continue to take ground rapidly" in the Kurdish enclave of Afrin, and that there are reports of shelling on opposition-besieged Foua and Kefrya, airstrikes in Idlib and a new opposition offensive in Hama, as well as clashes and airstrikes in Daraa in southern Syria.

Borrowing Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' words, he reiterated that in eastern Ghouta "people are still living in a hell on earth."

De Mistura told the U.N. Security Council in a video briefing Friday that there are also "fresh allegations of use of incendiary weapons against civilians in urban areas as well as fresh and disturbing allegations of chlorine use in these areas."

He said the U.N. cannot confirm the reports "but we cannot and should not ignore them."

De Mistura urged faster movement "with more impact" to implement the council's demand for a cease-fire throughout Syria and to establish a committee to draft a new constitution for Syria, saying the Syrian government must engage and be part of the process.

"De-escalation needs to replace what we are watching at the moment — a clear tendency for escalation," he said.


6:25 p.m.

The Syrian army says the armed forces have captured and cleared dozens of villages, towns and farms east of the capital Damascus consisting of about 70 percent of the area known as eastern Ghouta.

Syrian troops have been on the offensive in the area for three weeks, a campaign that has killed 1,300 civilians.

A statement read Friday by Brig. Gen. Ali Mayhoub said military operations were "swift and decisive."

It added that the Syrian armed forces opened two safe corridors and managed to secure the evacuation of thousands of civilians, who were held "by terrorist groups as human shields."

It called upon all residents of eastern Ghouta to leave the area and come to government-controlled parts of the country.


6:05 p.m.

Syria's U.N. ambassador says more than 40,000 civilians left the rebel-held Damascus suburbs of eastern Ghouta in a single day through a new security corridor opened by the government in the city of Hamouria.

Bashar Ja'afari told the U.N. Security Council on Friday that following the government takeover of Hamouria from "terrorists" on Thursday the government was assisting the evacuation of civilians "who were taken as human shields by terrorist groups."

He said the government and Syrian Red Crescent were coordinating to facilitate the safe transport of people from eastern Ghouta "to temporary shelters that are equipped with all the necessary equipment."

Ja'afari said the government will allow convoys with medical supplies and other aid into the area "if the security circumstances allow."

He accused the U.N. and other governments of doing nothing to alleviate the suffering "of tens of thousands of people who have tried to flee terrorism."


5:45 p.m.

A Syrian monitoring group says more than 100 civilians have been killed in government, Russian, and Turkish airstrikes and shelling on towns inside Syria.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government and Russian forces have been bombing rebel-towns areas outside Damascus throughout Friday, killing 64 people in Kafr Batna and another 12 in Saqba.

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group reported 61 fatalities in Kafr Batna.

The Syrian government is determined to seize Kafr Batna, Saqba, and the rest of the besieged eastern Ghouta region from rebels, after 7 years of war.

The Observatory says Turkish shelling and airstrikes have killed another 27 people in the Kurdish-held town of Afrin, in north Syria.

Turkey is waging a war on a Syrian Kurdish militia that controls Afrin and the surrounding region.


5:30 p.m.

Syrian state media is reporting that government forces have captured a town on the southern edge of rebel-held eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said troops captured Jisreen on Friday after battles with opposition gunmen.

The capture of Jisreen brings government forces closer to the rebel strongholds of Saqba and Kafr Batna where dozens of people were killed in airstrikes earlier Friday.

Syrian government forces have captured more than half of the area known as eastern Ghouta and have cut it into three parts over the past three weeks.


3:15 p.m.

A U.N. spokeswoman says the world body is receiving "deeply alarming" reports from the Kurdish enclave of Afrin about civilian deaths and injuries due to airstrikes and ground-based strikes.

Ravina Shamdasani, spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, added in a statement Friday it is also getting reports that civilians are being prevented from leaving the area by Kurdish fighters.

Shamdasani said hundreds of thousands of civilians are at risk, including those recently displaced from other areas captured by Turkish-led forces.

She said that the humanitarian situation is reportedly worsening, "with tremendous pressure on Afrin hospital - the only medical facility equipped for major operations."

She said parties to the conflict should must allow civilians to leave and take precautions to avoid loss of civilian lives.


1:50 p.m.

A Syrian war monitoring group says Russian and Syrian government airstrikes on a town in the besieged eastern Ghouta enclave, just outside of Damascus, have killed 46 people.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the town of Kafr Batna was hit with cluster munitions, napalm-like incendiary weapons, and conventional explosives on Friday.

Government forces are advancing on towns inside the rebel-held enclave, prompting a massive exodus of civilians.

A medical charity supporting hospitals in the Ghouta region, the Syrian American Medical Society, says doctors in Kafr Batna are treating patients for severe burn wounds. The charity says it recorded 40 casualties on Friday.

The Syrian Civil Defense search-and-rescue group says it has identified 42 bodies so far. It says the streets are strewn with body parts and that it expects the death toll to rise.


12:30 p.m.

Syrian Kurdish forces say that Turkish shelling and airstrikes in the northern Syrian town of Afrin have killed at least 20 civilians.

Redur Khalil, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, also says 30 people have been wounded as Turkish forces shelled the Ashrafieh neighborhood of the town on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitors put the death toll at 18. It released a video showing four lifeless bodies lying on the streets of Afrin.

Turkish forces have nearly encircled Afrin in an effort to drive out Kurdish fighters from the town and the surrounding region. Residents say they are facing bread, water, and electricity shortages.

Hundreds of civilians were seen leaving the town to neighboring villages on Thursday looking for relief. Tens of thousands of civilians are believed to still be inside.


11:40 a.m.

Turkey's military says it's dropped flyers in Arabic and Kurdish on the northern Syrian town of Afrin, asking residents to stay away from "terrorist positions" and urging Syrian Kurdish militiamen to surrender.

The fliers were dropped on Friday as Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters press Ankara's seven-week offensive to drive Syrian Kurdish forces from the enclave of Afrin and its main town of the same name.

The leaflets say Afrin civilians wanting to leave would be "under the guarantee" of the Turkish military. They also call on locals not to allow themselves to be used as "human shields."

The leaflets urge Syrian Kurdish fighters to "trust the hand we extend to you." They say: "Come surrender! A calm and peaceful future awaits you in Afrin."


10:05 a.m.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the Russian military and the Syrian government are extending a cease-fire in Damascus' rebel-held suburbs as long as it takes to allow all the civilians to leave the area.

Lavrov spoke in Kazakhstan on Friday, saying the cease-fire will be extended "until all (civilians) leave" the enclave known as eastern Ghouta.

The Russian Defense Ministry said that 2,000 people had exited the rebel-held suburbs by early morning.

Thursday saw the largest single-day exodus of civilians in Syria's civil war. Tens of thousands emerged from Hamouria and other opposition towns to escape the onslaught.

The civilians were fleeing as Syrian government troops, backed by Russian aircraft, pushed further into eastern Ghouta.

Elsehwere, Turkish forces are pushing their way into the northern Kurdish-held town of Afrin.

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