The Latest: IS fighters evacuated from Damascus area

AP News
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Posted: Apr 20, 2016 2:34 PM
The Latest: IS fighters evacuated from Damascus area

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in the Syrian conflict and talks (all times Beirut local):

8:30 p.m.

A Hezbollah media outlet in Lebanon says 290 Islamic State militants with 150 of their family members have been evacuated by a U.N. convoy from a Damascus-area town to Raqqa, the extremist group's de facto capital, in northeast Syria.

The outlet, known as Military Media, says the IS fighters left Dumair on Wednesday under a U.N. deal.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, says the town has been at the center of heavy clashes between pro-government forces, Islamist militants, and IS fighters.

The Observatory also says that fighting has erupted between Syrian pro-government militias and Kurdish forces in the Kurdish city of Qamishli, in Syria's northeast.

It says Kurdish forces have killed or arrested 25 militiamen in the city, which was once shared peacefully between the two sides.

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7:50 p.m.

The spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general has confirmed plans are underway to evacuate some 500 people from four besieged Syrian communities.

Stephane Dujarric told reporters on Wednesday that the people are in "urgent need of life-saving medical attention." He did not give details on the timing or where the people would be taken.

He says the "sad thing is, we should not have to negotiate medical evacuations."

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has said six people have been evacuated on medical grounds from Foua and Kfraya villages while two were evacuated from Zabadani in a deal sponsored by the United Nations and coordinated by the Red Crescent.

The larger evacuation would be the first major one since a February cease-fire, which has all but collapsed amid renewed violence. In December, 460 people from the four communities were evacuated.

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3:40 p.m.

The head of the Syrian government delegation at the Geneva peace talks says the walkout by a main Syrian opposition group has removed a "major obstacle" to the success of the negotiations.

Bashar Ja'afari, who is also Syria's U.N. ambassador, blasted the opposition group as "extremists" and "mercenaries."

Ja'afari told reporters Wednesday in Geneva that his government's position is that any political solution in Syria would include a broad-based unity government, an amended constitution and parliamentary elections. He says any group that thinks otherwise is "living an illusion" and is "wasting their time and ours."

The Western-backed High Negotiation Committee suspended its participation in the Geneva talks this week after a cease-fire, which had been in effect since late February, all but collapsed. The HNC does not want President Bashar Assad to have any role in a future Syria.

The U.N. special Envoy Staffan de Mistura said he will review the talks on Friday

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2:30 p.m.

Syrian activists and the Lebanese Al-Manar TV say a deal has been reached to evacuate 500 residents from four besieged Syrian communities.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday six people were evacuated on medical grounds from Foua and Kfraya villages while two were evacuated from Zabadani in the deal sponsored by the United Nations and coordinated by the Red Crescent. The U.N. declined comment.

The evacuation would be the first major one since a February cease-fire, which has all but collapsed amid renewed violence. In December, 460 people from the four communities were evacuated.

Madaya northeast of Damascus and Zabadani near the border with Lebanon have been besieged by government and allied militia for months. Fouaa and Kfarya in the northern province of Idlib are blockaded by rebels for over a year.

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1:20 p.m.

The head of a Turkey-based Syrian opposition group says that the government of President Bashar Assad has effectively "buried" the cessation of hostilities with its continuous attacks across the country.

Anas al-Abda, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition, says at a press conference Wednesday there will be no quick return to peace talks in Geneva if the current situation continues.

He also warns that the peace negotiations may "collapse completely."

The cease-fire agreement in place since Feb. 27 has all but collapsed amid fierce fighting in Syria's north.

The opposition delegation to the talks in Geneva suspended its participation in protest although it kept a small technical team there.

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11:45 am.m

Activists and a media outlet associated with militants say the Islamic State group has seized control of a government-controlled neighborhood in Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria, expanding its presence in the province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Wednesday the group's militants clashed heavily overnight with government troops and allied forces, advancing in the city's industrial district. The Observatory says five airstrikes hit the neighborhood, but there were no immediate word of casualties or who was behind the strikes.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said IS has expelled government troops from the district. The militant group now edges closer to a much-coveted military air base.

IS lost control to the government of the city of Palmyra, but has also repelled attacks from other rebel groups in the north.