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The Latest: UN ready to encourage positive action on Syria

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

2:30 a.m.

China's U.N. ambassador says the Security Council is ready to encourage any positive developments from Russia-sponsored cease-fire talks on Syria in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana, starting Tuesday and peace talks in Geneva next week.

Liu Jieyi, who holds the council presidency this month, told reporters Monday that the Security Council has been trying to promote political talks between the government and opposition and "a Syrian-led, Syrian-owned political process."

The two sides have held four previous rounds of talks in Kazakhstan since January in parallel to the U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva. Neither process has made much progress. A cease-fire declared in May, has been repeatedly violated.

Liu said China believes the Security Council should "do its part to encourage whatever positive developments that may emerge — and we certainly hope that there will be positive developments from the Astana process and from the Geneva process."

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5 p.m.

The Syrian military says it has temporarily halted combat operations in the south ahead of Russian-sponsored cease-fire talks with the rebels.

Monday's announcement came after a large Syrian rebel faction in the south said it would not attend the talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, because the government was not abiding by previous cease-fire agreements.

The two sides have held four previous rounds of talks in the Kazakh capital since January in parallel to U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva. Neither process has made much progress. A cease-fire declared in May, which is built around so-called "de-escalation zones," has been repeatedly violated.

The military announcement, carried on Syrian state media, did not link the present pause to the Astana talks, but said it would run until July 6. Delegates are expected to begin meetings with a U.N. mediator and other diplomats on July 4.

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3 p.m.

A top Syrian official says the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons refused to visit key sites linked to a nerve gas attack, casting doubt on the international monitor's credibility.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad dismissed an OPCW report released last week confirming the use of sarin gas on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in April. He says the inspectors refused government invitations to visit the site of the attack or the military airport allegedly linked to it.

The report, which relied on samples taken to Turkey, did not say who was responsible for the attack.

Western nations blamed the attack on government forces, and U.S. President Donald Trump ordered a missile attack on a Syrian air base. Syria insists it has never used chemical weapons.