BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria's civil war and peace talks in Geneva (all times local):
The main Syrian opposition group says it's keeping "technical experts" in Geneva next week to focus on humanitarian aid for the war-ravaged country, a wobbly cease-fire and a stepped-up push to win the release of detainees.
The statement by the High Negotiations Committee comes days after it pulled back from, but didn't formally leave, the main U.N. sponsored effort on Syria: Indirect peace talks between the HNC and President Bashar Assad's government. The HNC walked off largely to protest alleged government violations of a U.S. and Russia-engineered truce.
U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura plans Friday to detail a "review" of the talks' status.
He told Swiss television Thursday that talks will continue because "we must never give up when there's a possibility to stop such a horrible war like Syria's."
The leaders of Russia and Israel have met in Moscow to discuss coordination between their militaries in Syria.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that he wants to "strengthen the security coordination between us so as to avoid mishaps, misunderstandings and unnecessary confrontations."
Israel and Russia established a mechanism meant to coordinate between their air forces in Syria after Russia began carrying out airstrikes to help Syrian President Bashar Assad who has said his forces are battling Islamic militants and other "terrorists." Assad's government often refers to all opposition fighters as terrorists.
Israel is widely thought to have carried out a number of airstrikes that have targeted advanced weapons systems believed to be destined for the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah militant group. Israel has also responded to fire into its territory emanating from Syria.
A Syrian Kurdish media outlet says 67 Syrian government fighters have surrendered to Kurdish forces in the northeastern city of Qamishli.
Hawar news reported on Thursday that Kurdish forces, which have carved out a zone of semi-autonomy in Syria's north over the course of the country's violent and ongoing conflict, managed to seize the Alaya prison, inside the city, after the government fighters inside it gave themselves up.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Kurdish forces have encircled the government's "security" quarter in the city, amid fierce fighting.
The Observatory says 25 pro-government militiamen were arrested or killed Wednesday by Kurdish forces in the city, which had been generally peaceful despite sporadic outbreaks of violence.
Syria's deputy foreign minister says the Syrian government is ready to "respect the cessation of hostilities requested by the United Nations" and allow to the humanitarian aids to reach those who need it.
Faisal Mekdad spoke on Thursday in Prague after talks at the Czech Foreign Ministry. The Czech Republic is the only EU country that keeps an ambassador to Damascus.
He said the indirect peace talks between Syria's warring parties that has resumed in Geneva should continue "until we reach a solution."
With the Czechs, Mekdad discussed the distribution of the latest humanitarian aid from the Czech Republic.
He said: "We assure you that this humanitarian assistance will go to the people who deserve it."
Mekdad also met the ministers of finance as well industry and trade, saying the reconstruction of Syria will start soon after the end of the crisis, and that "we have to prepare ourselves."
The U.N. envoy for Syria is pointing to "real but modest progress" in the country's humanitarian situation, even as doubts linger about the future of peace talks in Geneva.
Staffan de Mistura told reporters Thursday that 515 people were medically evacuated a day earlier from four Syrian municipalities: Zabadani, Madaya, Kfarya and Foua.
He also announced a "fact-finding" mission is seeking to arrange deliveries of humanitarian aid to the besieged Damascus suburb of Daraya, something President Barack Obama has publicly called for. De Mistura credits Russia for "arguing in favor" of the convoy.
Staffan de Mistura reiterates that he will speak on Friday about the future of the U.N.-brokered peace talks after the Western-backed opposition postponed its participation, in protest at the Syrian government's cease-fire violations.
De Mistura says he plans to nominate an unspecified "very effective person" to focus on the critical question of the thousands of detainees held Syria — a major issue for the opposition.
A top American official says the U.S. is concerned about reports that Russia is moving military personnel and equipment back into Syria.
"It would be negative for Russia to move additional military equipment or personnel in to Syria," Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser, told reporters Thursday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where Obama and Gulf leaders were meeting to discuss Syria and other regional conflicts. "We believe that our efforts are best focused on supporting the diplomatic process."
President Barack Obama told Russian President Vladimir Putin in a telephone call earlier this week that Russia should focus on maintaining the cease-fire and pursuing a diplomatic solution to the conflict.
Rhodes says the cease-fire has restored "some degree of calm" to several areas of Syria over the past several weeks and allowed much-needed humanitarian aid to be delivered. But he says the U.S. has been concerned by "an uptick" in violations of the truce agreement. He called on Russia to use its influence to ensure the Syrian government abides by the cease-fire terms.
The International Committee of the Red Cross says that together with the U.N. it is delivering its largest ever humanitarian aid convoy, destined for an opposition-held town under siege in central Syria.
ICRC spokesman Pawel Krzysiek says Thursday's aid convoy is the first to reach the town of Rastan in over a year. Krzysiek says the population of Rastan, which is in Homs province, has doubled because of the influx of people fleeing nearby fighting.
He says the convoy is made up of 65 trucks containing food, medicine and medical equipment, electricity generators and water treatment materials.
The two-month-old cease-fire, now in jeopardy, was intended in part to improve access to besieged areas of Syria. The U.N.'s humanitarian office said earlier this month that 21 percent of the nearly half million people in besieged areas of Syria were reached in March, down from 25 percent in February.
Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova says the suspended participation of the Syrian opposition in the Geneva talks could lead to "a return of total armed conflict"
Zakharova said on Thursday that "we have a situation where terrorists are desperately trying to disrupt the political process," referring to the Syrian opposition's High Negotiations Committee, which said Monday it was halting its involvement in talks.
Speaking at a press briefing in Moscow, Zakharova said the armed standoff in Syria is growing, especially to the north and south of Aleppo, though the U.S.- Russia brokered cease-fire agreement is generally holding in most parts of the country.
The spokeswoman blames Turkey for continuing to destabilize Syria by colluding with extremist groups
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says Syria's fragile cease-fire remains best the hope for ending the conflict.
Speaking in the Turkish capital, Ankara, he said the cease-fire was "under strain" but remains the "best basis for a negotiated, peaceful solution to the crisis."
Stoltenberg noted that Russia has maintained a "considerable military presence" in support of the Syrian government despite announcing a partial withdrawal.
A February cease-fire agreement between President Bashar Assad's government and rebel fighters, which excluded extremist factions like the Islamic State group, greatly reduced violence in Syria but has all but collapsed in the north of the country amid faltering peace talks in Geneva.
This story has been corrected to show that the ICRC stands for the International Committee of the Red Cross, and not the International Commission of the Red Cross.