The Latest: Turkey brands al-Qaida group in Syria terrorists

September 02, 2018 - 6:20 am

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

4:20 p.m.

Turkey has named an al-Qaida affiliate in Syria a terror organization to include the group's rebranded name.

The change comes amid discussions with Russia over how to treat the Levant Liberation Committee (Hay'at Tahrir al-Sham), which controls most of Idlib, and other rebels, as a Russian-backed regime offensive on the last remaining rebel stronghold appears imminent.

The Turkish update of a list freezing the assets of people and organizations with links to terror was published in the country's official gazette Friday. It comes with an appendix noting that the group's former name was the Nusra Front.

Turkey already considered the Nusra Front terrorists but the group rebranded itself in January 2017 and merged with other jihadist groups under the Levant Liberation Committee.

Though the group claims to have no direct ties to al-Qaida, it's considered a terrorist group by the United States and the United Nations.

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3:40 p.m.

France's foreign minister says Syrian President Bashar Assad has won his country's civil war but won't "win the peace" without a political solution brokered by the international community.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also reiterated threats of Western retaliation if Assad cedes to the "temptation" of using chemical weapons in the looming battle for the northern Idlib province, the last major opposition stronghold.

Le Drian said Sunday on France-Inter radio that "Assad won the war, we have to state this. But he hasn't won the peace."

He said that even if Assad's forces retake Idlib, that won't solve the problems that unleashed the war seven years ago.

He said France will press at this month's U.N. General Assembly for a political solution in Syria, and is holding talks with Russia, Turkey and Iran to push them to use their influence with Assad to ensure political negotiations after the war ends.

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1:45 p.m.

Pope Francis is pressing for negotiations to avoid a "humanitarian catastrophe" from a looming battle in Syria.

Francis appealed on Sunday to the international community and "all the actors involved" to use diplomacy, dialogue and negotiations "in respect for international humanitarian law and to safeguard the lives of civilians."

Addressing faithful in St. Peter's Square, Francis said "the winds of war are still blowing and troubling news reaches us about the risks of a possible humanitarian catastrophe" in Syria's Idlib province.

That's where Syrian opposition forces have dug trenches around their bases, anticipating a ground offensive on their last major stronghold. The battle for Idlib might be the last in seven years of civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of civilians in the Idlib area have nowhere to flee.

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1:40 p.m.

A group monitoring the Syrian war says at least two military personnel were killed and 11 wounded in overnight explosions in a military airport on the edge of the capital.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Sunday the blasts that rocked Damascus are believed to have been caused by an Israeli strike.

Syrian pro-government media initially blamed the blasts on Israel. But state media later quoted an unnamed Syrian military official as saying the explosions were caused by an electrical malfunction in a munition depot nearby.

The Observatory relies on various sources on the ground to monitor the war.

The government has blamed Israel for previous attacks on the airport. Israel rarely acknowledges such strikes, but has recently targeted suspected Iranian posts inside Syria.