By Associated Press - Thursday, December 8, 2016

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

9:40 p.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says 300 commandos have deployed to the border area with Syria.

Anadolu said Thursday that the commandos would join Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield, which aims to drive Islamic State militants and Kurdish forces out of a strategic area of northern Syria.

The report did not specify if they had crossed into Syria.

Turkey supports anti-government forces in Syria and has a military presence in the northern Syrian town of Jarablus and in the outskirts of the IS-held town of al-Bab.


7:45 p.m.

Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow and Washington have agreed to call a meeting to discuss the withdrawal of Syrian rebels from Aleppo.

Sergey Lavrov said Thursday after talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Hamburg that they agreed to call a meeting of military experts and diplomats in Geneva on Saturday.

He said they would work on a document outlining details of the rebels’ exit from Aleppo’s eastern neighborhoods, along with civilians who are also willing to leave the city.

The Syrian government has dismissed calls for a cease-fire, as its troops press their offensive on the rebel-held enclave.

Lavrov says the Syrian army suspended its advance Thursday to allow some 8,000 civilians to leave the city in a convoy spreading across 5 kilometers (more than 3 miles).


6:40 p.m.

A senior Russian diplomat has dismissed a Western threat of new sanctions over Syria as a sign of “political impotence.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that a statement from the United States and five other Western powers raising the threat of additional sanctions against the supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad was “cowardly.”

In a joint statement Wednesday, the leaders of Britain, Germany, Italy, France, Canada and the U.S. called for an immediate cease-fire in the Syrian city of Aleppo and said they were “ready to consider additional restrictive measures against individuals and entities that act for or on behalf of the Syrian regime.”

Russian news agencies quoted Ryabkov as saying that the threat of sanctions reflects a “complete political impotence of this group of nations.”


5:45 p.m.

A U.N. aid official says Syria’s government has authorized U.N.-organized aid shipments into eastern Aleppo for the first time.

Jan Egeland provided no details about how the aid might get in or where it would go in eastern Aleppo, where President Bashar Assad’s forces have made recent inroads to recapture areas from opposition fighters.

Egeland said Thursday in Geneva that efforts to evacuate hundreds of wounded people from eastern Aleppo stalled after a deadly attack on a Russian military hospital last week.

He said the government “finally” agreed to a U.N. plan to deliver aid across front lines and reach about 85 percent of 930,000 people in “besieged areas” across Syria. Such approvals, however, do not always result in actual deliveries.


5:10 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists say Islamic State militants have seized territory near Palmyra, home to famed Roman ruins.

IS seized Palmyra and held it for 10 months before being driven out by Russian-backed Syrian government forces in March. During their reign, the extremists destroyed a number of 2,000-year-old monuments and artifacts.

Rami Abdurrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says IS launched a two-pronged attack on government forces Thursday, advancing to within 5 miles (8 kilometers) of the town.

The Palmyra Coordination Committee, another opposition group, says IS advanced from the south and north, capturing government checkpoints and a number of small villages, and approaching gas fields and grain silos.

The IS-run Aamaq news agency posted a video of four captured government soldiers.


2:45 p.m.

A senior Turkish official says the fate of the Syrian city of Aleppo has dominated high-level talks between Turkey and Russia.

Turkey’s presidential spokesman, Ibrahim Kalin, said Thursday there was “intense diplomatic activity” in order to bring about a cease-fire and the delivery of humanitarian aid. He says “the events taking place in Aleppo are of serious concern to all of us.”

Kalin says Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is personally engaged in the effort and has spoken three times with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

The Syrian government with the help of its allies has regained almost complete control of the eastern neighborhoods of the divided city in a devastating military offensive.

Russia is a key ally of the Syrian government and has been carrying out airstrikes for more than a year in support of President Bashar Assad’s forces. Turkey is a leading sponsor of the opposition.


1:05 p.m.

Syria opposition activists are reporting intense government bombings of a number of neighborhoods that remain under rebel control in the city of Aleppo.

They say clashes are underway on Thursday along the fast-moving front line. The opposition Local Coordination Committees says government airstrikes and artillery hit at least six rebel-held neighborhoods in central and southeastern Aleppo

Opposition Thiqa news agency says the government dropped barrel bombs on al-Sukkari and Kallaseh neighborhoods.

Syrian troops and allied militiamen moved swiftly into rebel-held eastern Aleppo less than two weeks ago and are now in control of more than three quarters of the besieged rebel enclave.

Activists are struggling to document casualties because of street clashes and intense bombings.

The Syrian Civil Defense in Aleppo says it was able to record 38 killed in Wednesday’s violence. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 11 were killed in Aleppo’s Old City, which was seized by the government Wednesday.


12:15 p.m.

The International Committee for the Red Cross says it has evacuated 148 disabled civilians and others in need of urgent care from a facility in Aleppo’s Old City that is now under Syrian government control.

ICRC said in a statement on Thursday that the evacuation was possible after fighting calmed down in that part of the city. It said the evacuation was undertaken jointly with the Syrian Arab Red Crescent and was completed late on Wednesday.

The government secured the area after repelling rebels, who retreated to the south.

Pawel Krzysiek, ICRC communication coordinator in Damascus, says the evacuees had been “forgotten” amid the fighting.

He says they were trapped in a facility that was originally a home for the elderly. They include mental health patients, elderly orphans, and patients with physical disabilities. Some were injured civilians who had sought refuge there.

Krzysiek says they were evacuated to hospital and shelters in the western, government-held part of Aleppo.


11:30 a.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad says victory in the battle for Aleppo will be a “big gain” for his government but that it will not be the end of the war in Syria.

In an interview published on Thursday in the state-owned newspaper al-Watan, Assad described his forces’ fight in Aleppo as one against terrorism and a conspiracy to destroy and divide Syria, allegedly led by Turkey.

Assad says that “liberating Aleppo from the terrorists deals a blow to the whole foundation of this project.”

With Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and former commercial heart, the capital of Damascus and Homs, the third largest city under his control, Assad says “terrorists” no longer hold any cards.

But he added, “to be realistic, it doesn’t mean the end of the war.”

“Even if we finish in Aleppo, we will carry on with the war against them.”


9:40 a.m.

A Russian deputy foreign minister says Russia is close to reaching a deal with the United States on a cease-fire for the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have rejected previous calls for truce for the war-torn city, keeping up the military offensive that has squeezed and forced rebels to retreat in several areas.

Russian news agencies on Thursday quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying that Moscow and Washington are “close to reaching an understanding” on Aleppo but warned against “high expectations.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met on Wednesday in Germany but didn’t release any statements.

Ryabkov said the Kerry-Lavrov talks were extensive but said a final deal has not been worked out yet.

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