The Latest: Explosion, fire reported near Damascus airport


BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

7 a.m.

Syrian opposition activists and a monitor say a large explosion has rocked the Syrian capital, followed by a fire near Damascus airport.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdurrahman says the explosion early Thursday has been heard across the capital, jolting residents awake. He says the explosion is reported to have occurred near the Damascus airport road.

The dawn explosion has also been reported by other activists’ networks but the source was unclear.

Activist-operated Diary of a Mortar, which reports from Damascus, says the explosion near the airport road was followed by flames rising above the area. A pro-government site Damascus Now says the explosion was near the city’s Seventh Bridge, which leads to the airport road.

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This version corrects the spelling of Diary of a Mortar.

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8:50 p.m.

Russia has expressed “serious concern” over Turkey’s strikes on Kurdish forces in Syria and Iraq, saying such actions hinder efforts to fight terrorism.

Turkish warplanes struck the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, in Syria and the peshmerga in Iraq, both U.S.-allied forces which are battling the Islamic State group. Turkey said it struck rebels taking part in the Kurdish insurgency in its southeast.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that “in a situation where the war on terror in Iraq and Syria is far from over, such actions clearly do not contribute to the consolidation of anti-terrorist efforts.”

The ministry also expressed concern that “the Turkish strikes were inflicted on the territory of sovereign states, bypassing their legitimate governments. We consider such actions unacceptable.”

Russia and Turkey support opposite sides in Syria’s civil war, but in recent months had cooperated to broker a permanent cease-fire in order to restart peace talks.

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8:30 p.m.

Syrian activists say airstrikes have struck a camp for the displaced in the northern rebel-held Idlib province, killing at least 10.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says women and children were among those killed in Wednesday’s airstrikes on the rural village of Maarata.

The Syrian Civil Defense, volunteer first responders, say they pulled a number of people from the rubble following the strikes, which caused extensive damage to temporary shelters. A video of the rescue operation shows a wailing child after she was hauled from the rubble, with blood covering her face.

Another activist network, Shaam News, also reported the attack.

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7:30 p.m.

Hundreds of mourners in Syria’s capital have taken part in the funeral procession for more than 50 people killed in a car bomb attack that targeted government supporters being evacuated from a besieged area.

Wednesday’s procession took place in Sayida Zeinab, a Damascus suburb that is home to a major Shiite shrine and is a stronghold for Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group fighting alongside the Syrian government.

The April 15 attack killed nearly 130 people, including over 60 children.

Those targeted were part of a population exchange brokered by the government and mostly Sunni rebels, in which thousands of people are being evacuated from two pro-government villages in the north and opposition-held areas near Damascus.

The exchange has been widely criticized, with rights groups saying it amounts to forced displacement.

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5:15 p.m.

The Syrian government has condemned a Turkish attack on U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters in northern Syria.

The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that the airstrikes the day before violated international law and infringed on Syrian sovereignty. It called on the U.N. to condemn the attack.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, which controls large swathes of Syria’s border with Turkey, says 20 of its fighters were killed in the air raids. No Syrian government forces were targeted in the attack.

The SDF and the Syrian government have largely avoided confrontation over the course of the complex civil war. The SDF is the most effective ground force battling the Islamic State group in Syria.

Turkey says it targeted fighters affiliated with an outlawed Kurdish group waging an insurgency inside Turkey.

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3:45 p.m.

Turkey’s military says two of its military border outposts were attacked with mortar fire from Syria but there were no casualties.

The military says it immediately retaliated to the attacks on the posts in the town of Hassa, in Hatay province, on Wednesday.

It says the first outpost was attack from Syria’s Afrin region, an area controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Turkey considers to be terrorists because of alleged links to Turkey’s outlawed Kurdish rebels.

The military says the second attack came three hours later and originated from an area under the control of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces.

The attacks came a day after Turkey conducted air strikes on Kurdish rebel positions in Syria and Iraq. At least 20 Syrian Kurdish fighters were killed.

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2:20 p.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has dismissed claims that international experts cannot visit the site of a suspected chemical weapons attack in Syria because of security precautions.

Lavrov on Wednesday lashed out at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for failing to go and examine the site of the April deadly attack in in northern Syria.

Lavrov says claims that the experts were warned by a U.N. body against traveling there because it’s unsafe are “lies,” adding that Moscow went back to the U.N. and found out that there was no such warning.

Lavrov also said the Syrian government had offered security assurances for any experts who would like to visit. He spoke at a joint news conference in Moscow with the visiting Saudi foreign minister, Adel al-Jubeir.

The Saudi envoy also supported the idea of an international probe but said his country still believes the Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government was behind the attack.

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1:20 p.m.

U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces say they want the international coalition to provide air cover over northern Syria, to protect them from Turkish and Syrian government air raids.

Ilham Ahmad, the co-president of the Syrian Democratic Council which also includes representatives of Arab factions in northern Syria, said on Wednesday that their local commanders have asked the United States to bar Turkish and Syrian jets from flying over Rojava, the predominantly Kurdish-area in northern Syria that is under the Kurds’ autonomous rule.

The SDC is the political arm of the Syrian Democratic Forces, the U.S.’s main partner in the struggle to defeat the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

Turkey says one of the Kurdish groups represented in the SDF is an extension of an outlawed insurgent Kurdish group within its own borders.

Turkish air strikes killed 20 Syrian Kurdish fighters affiliated with SDF in airstrikes that Ankara conducted early on Tuesday morning on Kurdish rebel positions in Syria and Iraq.

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12:15 p.m.

The Kremlin says a new French government report that blames the Syrian government for a deadly chemical attack earlier this month is not enough to prove who was behind it.

France’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that chemical analysis of samples taken from the attack shows that the nerve agent used “bears the signature” of President Bashar Assad’s government.

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia’s position on the attack is “unchanged” and that “that the only way to establish the truth about what happened near Idlib is an impartial international investigation.”

Russia has previously urged for an international probe, and Peskov expressed regret that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has turned down the Syrian government’s offers to visit the site of the attack and investigate.

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11:50 a.m.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is marking its 20th anniversary at a ceremony that comes just three weeks after dozens of people were killed in a suspected nerve gas attack in Syria.

While the Nobel Peace Prize-winning global chemical weapons watchdog is widely seen as a disarmament success story, Wednesday’s ceremony at the historic Knights Hall in The Hague comes against a backdrop of repeated uses in recent years of chemicals in Syria’s grinding civil war.

The OPCW is responsible for implementing the Chemical Weapons Convention, which entered into force on April 29, 1997, and has 192 member states, including Syria. Since its inception, the organization has overseen the destruction of some 95 percent of the world’s declared stocks of chemical weapons.

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11:35 a.m.

France’s foreign minister says chemical analysis of samples taken from a deadly sarin gas attack in Syria shows that the nerve agent used “bears the signature” of President Bashar Assad’s regime and shows it was responsible.

Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday that France now knows “from sure sources” that “the manufacturing process of the sarin that was sampled is typical of the method developed in Syrian laboratories.”

He added that “this method bears the signature of the regime and that is what allows us to establish its responsibility in this attack.”

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11:10 a.m.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the airstrike that the United States launched at a Syrian military base earlier this month damages the prospects of a political settlement for the war-torn country.

The airstrike was in response to a chemical weapons attack on April 4 on a northern Syrian town that Washington blamed on the Syrian government.

Lavrov told a security conference on Wednesday the attack as a pretext for a regime change in Syria and said the U.S. response “pushes the prospect for a wide international front on terror even further away.”

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier on Wednesday Russia had to boost security measures at its air base in Syria after the airstrike. Russia has provided an air cover for the government’s offensive on Islamic State militants.