BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria (all times local):
A Syrian official says the government will restore its control over the two towns evacuated of opposition and rebel fighters, as part of a swap deal that also freed residents of two pro-government areas.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says government troops and allied forces have already entered Madaya, one of the opposition-held towns evacuated of rebels. A government-affiliated military media said Madaya — just west of the capital Damascus — has been cleared of armed men, adding that only mediators have entered the town to ensure that those who have stayed behind are unarmed. Buses earlier Friday transported over 2,000 from Madaya to rebel-held Idlib.
The Madaya evacuation is part of a deal to evacuate some 30,000 Syrians from pro-government and pro-rebel besieged areas, in a deal struck by rebels and the government and criticized as forced displacement.
Russia, Syria and Iran have strongly warned the United States against launching new strikes on Syria.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who hosted his Iranian and Syrian counterparts at Friday's trilateral meeting in Moscow, denounced last week's U.S. attack on Syria and warned that any further such action would entail "grave consequences not only for regional but global security."
The U.S. has blamed the Syrian government for launching a deadly chemical attack that killed over 80 people and struck a Syrian air force base in response. Russia has claimed that the victims were killed by toxic agents released from a rebel chemical arsenal and pushed for an international probe.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem welcomed international inspectors to visit the base Washington said served as a platform for the attack.
A senior Russian diplomat says the United States and Russia are again exchanging information on a hotline designed to prevent midair incidents over Syria, but that the formal agreement on such exchanges has not been renewed.
After the U.S. launched a Tomahawk missile barrage on a Syrian air base last week, Russia announced that it was suspending observance of the memorandum that established the hotline.
President Vladimir Putin said after this week's meeting with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Russia was ready to return to the arrangement.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Friday that "the exchange of information is taking place but we are not officially sating that the validity of this document has been renewed," according to the state news agency Tass. "That is to say, the amount of information being exchanged is determined, as I understand it, depending on the situation."
A senior Russian diplomat says Moscow believes that an international probe into last week's chemical attack in Syria should include experts from Brazil, India, Iran and other nations.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted Friday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should visit both the Syrian air base, which the U.S. said had served as a platform for the attack, and the area of the attack as soon as possible.
The U.S. has blamed the Syrian government for launching the attack that killed more than 80, while Russia has claimed that toxic agents were released from a rebel chemical arsenal hit by Syrian warplanes.
Russia vetoed a Western draft U.N. resolution Wednesday saying it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack.
The Syrian government and the opposition have begun a coordinated population swap of tens of thousands of people from four besieged towns.
Activists including the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said buses carrying rebels began leaving the rebel-held towns Madaya and Zabadani near Damascus on Friday morning in the first phase of the deal, which will also see the evacuation of residents from two pro-government Shiite villages in northern Syria.
Dozens of buses entered the areas Wednesday but by late Thursday people had not boarded them, according to opposition activists in the rebel-held towns.
If the evacuations are completed, they would be the first in number of rounds stretching over two months to evacuate some 30,000 Syrians from besieged areas, in a deal struck by rebels and the government.