BEIRUT — The Latest on Syria’s conflict (all times local):
Russia says Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry will fly to Geneva on Thursday to discuss a possible Syria deal following months of negotiations.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin failed to clinch a deal in China on Monday, acknowledging “gaps of trust” between the rival powers.
Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been carrying out airstrikes to bolster his forces for nearly a year. The United States supports rebels fighting to overthrow Assad and has called on him to step down.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Lavrov and Kerry had a telephone call Wednesday and agreed to work on the remaining details of a deal in Geneva on Thursday and Friday.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister says Turkey-backed Syrian rebel forces now control 300 square miles (772 square kilometers) of territory in northern Syria after pushing back the Islamic State group in a military operation that began last month.
Nurettin Canikli told reporters Wednesday that four Turkish soldiers have been killed and 19 wounded since Operation Euphrates Shield began Aug. 24.
Some 16 Syrian rebels were killed and 27 wounded. He said nearly 110 IS and Syrian Kurdish fighters have been killed. Turkish troops have clashed with U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in the area, which Ankara views as a threat because of their alleged links with Kurdish insurgents fighting in southeastern Turkey.
The Turkish Armed Forces said in a statement its jets hit five targets in Syria Wednesday, including two IS command centers. The military has hit 441 targets with artillery since the start of the operation.
Turkey’s deputy prime minister says authorities are encouraging Syrian refugees in Turkey to return to their homes in areas retaken from the Islamic State group.
Nurettin Canikli told a reporters Wednesday that Syrians are now returning to the border town of Jarablus, which Turkish troops and allied Syrian rebels liberated last month.
He says infrastructure work is underway and that the water supply in and around Jarablus will be restored by Monday, with other services resuming Saturday.
Canikli said Turkey’s goal is to create a no-fly zone over the area that would enable the resettlement of Syrian refugees there and has discussed the idea with other countries.
Turkey launched its intervention in northern Syria to drive IS back from the border and to halt the advance of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, which Ankara views as a threat. The Kurds are also battling IS, and have seized a swath of territory along the border.
Syrian activists say at least 10 civilians have been killed in a new airstrike on the neighborhood where a suspected chlorine gas attack struck the previous day.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says at least one child was among the victims of Wednesday’s strike on the al-Sukkari neighborhood in the contested city of Aleppo.
The Aleppo branch of the Syrian Civil Defense search and rescue organization put the initial casualty toll at 20 dead and more than 40 wounded but disparate tolls are common in the aftermath of airstrikes.
Medical workers in the city have said the opposition-controlled neighborhood was hit with chlorine gas on Tuesday, though the report could not be independently verified. They treated at least 70 people for breathing difficulties. A 13-year-old girl and a 29-year-old man died from further complications on Wednesday.
Activists and medical workers say Syrian government and Russian jets are behind the attacks.
Activists say the Syrian government has released at least 86 prisoners in a goodwill gesture to rebels.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the prisoners released on Wednesday had been held in the central Hama prison on charges linked to opposition activities.
The Observatory says the government is likely trying to secure the release of the bodies of at least two Russian airmen who were killed when their helicopter crashed in Syria’s rebel-controlled Idlib province a month ago. It is unclear whether rebels had shot the helicopter down.
Russian officials had no immediate comment.
However, the Idlib-based Syrian Commission for Releasing Detainees says the release is not linked to any potential exchanges. It says 88 prisoners were released, though 36 of them may be conscripted into the military.
An official in Syria’s contested city of Aleppo says a 13-year old girl has died after a suspected chlorine attack the previous day.
Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of the local forensic department in the rebel-held part of Aleppo, said on Wednesday that the girl died overnight of suffocation and respiratory burns.
Mohammed Abu Rajab, a technician in an Aleppo medical center, says the teen was admitted to the intensive care unit following a suspected chlorine attack in the city’s al-Sukkari neighborhood on Tuesday.
He says she was suffering from the impact of the explosion, gas inhalation and burns. Her fascial bones were broken.
Rescuers said at least 70 people were treated for breathing difficulties after government helicopters dropped the suspected chlorine cylinders. A 29-year old man also died from respiratory failure.
Accusations involving the use of chlorine have been on the rise. The report could not be independently verified and it was not clear how it was determined that chlorine gas was released.
A Turkish official says some Syrian refugees are seeking to return home after Turkey-backed Syrian rebels pushed Islamic State militants out of the Syrians’ hometown last week.
State-run Anadolu News Agency quoted Gaziantep Deputy Governor Nursal Cakiroglu as saying that 250 refugees who have been living in Turkey on Wednesday declared their intention to go back home to Jarablus.
Cakiroglu says Turkish crews are helping rebuild the town and working to restore power and water supply there. He says a field hospital will become operational very soon.
Turkey sent tanks into Syria on Aug. 24 as part of the so-called Euphrates Shield operation aimed at ousting Islamic State fighters and halting an advance by Syrian Kurdish forces, which Ankara sees as allies of the outlawed PKK that’s been waging a 30-year insurgency inside Turkey.
The Russian foreign ministry has voiced concern over the advance of Turkish troops in Syria, warning of potential implications for the peace process there.
The ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that it is “deeply concerned” about the Turkish operation in Syria, which began two weeks ago. Moscow underscores the operation has not been sanctioned by the U.N. Security Council or the Syrian government.
Moscow says Turkey’s actions “could further complicate the military and political situation in Syria, which is dire as it is” and jeopardy international efforts to reach a peace deal.
Russia’s statement comes just a few months after Russia and Turkey agreed to revive their ties, strained after Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jet on a combat mission near the Turkish-Syrian border.
A Syrian search and rescue organization says four of its personnel were killed in the line of duty the previous day in opposition-held areas in the country.
The Syrian Civil Defense, also known as the White Helmets, says two rescuers died on Tuesday in Idlib province and two others in Aleppo province in what were presumed to have been Russian or government airstrikes.
The organization says the rescuers were trying to help victims from earlier strikes on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib and the Salehine neighborhood in the city of Aleppo.
The White Helmets have lost over 137 personnel in the line of duty, many in “double tap” attacks, where warplanes strike targets twice to maximize casualties as crowds gather.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has endorsed a political transition plan for Syria proposed by opposition groups.
Johnson on Wednesday used a newspaper column to back the High Negotiations Committee’s plan that calls for the departure within six months of Syrian President Bashar Assad, followed by a shift to constitutional rule and free elections.
Johnson says in The Times column that Assad can have no part in a future government in Syria. He says Assad bears “overwhelming responsibility” for the massive loss of life in Syria.
He also says that if Russian and American negotiators can create a cease-fire there can be a resumption of talks in Geneva aimed at ending the conflict.
The relatively new British foreign minister will host a Friends of Syria meeting in London later on Wednesday.
A group representing Syria’s opposition has unveiled plans for a political transition designed to bring an end to the ruinous civil war, calling for the departure of President Bashar al-Assad after six months and for elections to be held after two years.
The High Negotiations Committee plan presented in London Wednesday calls for a full cease-fire to take effect as six months of negotiations begin with Assad’s government. The goal is to develop a signed agreement on the “basic principles” of the transition process.
HNC chief Riad Hijab says this would be followed by the establishment of a transitional governing body and the departure of Assad “and his clique.”
He says after 18 months there should be U.N.-supervised elections.
Hijab concedes there are formidable obstacles hindering implementation of the plan.
An official in Syria’s rebel-held Aleppo says at least one person has died from a suspected chlorine attack reported a day earlier.
Mohammed Abu Jaafar, head of the local forensic department in rebel-held Aleppo, said Wednesday 29-year old Mohammed Afifa died overnight of heart failure and acute respiratory distress caused by inhalation of toxic gas.
Hamza al-Khatib, who heads an Aleppo medical center, said Afifa had been in intensive care following the suspected chlorine attack.
Activists and rescuers said at least 70 people were treated for breathing difficulties after government helicopters dropped the suspected chlorine cylinders on al-Sukkari neighborhood.
Accusations involving the use of chlorine and other poisonous gases are not uncommon in Syria’s civil war. The report could not be independently verified and it was not clear how it was determined that chlorine gas was released.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has suggested that Turkey could take part in a future operation to liberate the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State group militants.
Erdogan told journalists aboard a plane as he returned from a G-20 meeting that the issue was brought up by U.S. President Barack Obama during the meetings in China. His words were reported by Hurriyet and several other Turkish newspapers on Wednesday.
Erdogan says: “Obama wants to do some things jointly concerning Raqqa. We said this would not be a problem from our perspective.”
The Turkish leader adds that he said Turkish and U.S. military officials could meet to discuss the issue.
Turkey’s military entered Syria last month to back efforts by Syrian rebels to push IS from the border, and has also clashed with Syrian Kurdish troops.
The U.N. humanitarian aid agency says fighting in Syria’s central Hama governorate has displaced some 100,000 people over eight days between late August and early September.
In a “flash update ,” OCHA says figures from a camp coordination group show nearly half of the displaced arrived in the neighboring Idlib governorate. It says a shortage of shelter space means many displaced families are sleeping outdoors in parks.
The Tuesday update says the United Nations has sent an “inter-agency convoy with life-saving supplies to Hama” and was evaluating the humanitarian situation.
OCHA says a dozen schools in rural areas and four mosques in the city of Hama were converted into temporary shelters.
Insurgents led by an ultraconservative Islamic group last week advanced northward in Hama province, prompting fierce fighting with government forces.