- Associated Press - Friday, March 18, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) - The Latest on the conflict in Syria as U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva carry on into their fifth day (all times local):

4 p.m.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says its warplanes in Syria are flying in support of the Syrian army’s offensive to try recapture ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi says Russian aircraft based in Syria are conducting 20-25 sorties a day in support of the Syrian military’s offensive.

That’s despite a Russian drawdown in Syria that President Vladimir Putin ordered this week in support of the Geneva talks.

Rudskoi told reporters in Moscow on Friday that the Syrian army has seized key hilltop points near Palmyra and has cut supply routes leading to the IS-held city. He says the Syrian army is close to taking control of the city from the Islamic State group.


2:30 p.m.

The spokesman for the main Syrian opposition delegation at the indirect peace talks in Geneva has accused the Damascus government of “procrastinating” and not engaging fully in the negotiations.

Salem Al Meslet of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s negotiators are not serious about the indirect talks and refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The U.N. special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is hosting separate talks with the HNC and the Syrian government team on Friday in Geneva, where negotiations got under way this week to try end the five-year war.

Al Meslet also says Syrian refugees would eventually return home, once the government stops bombing and killing civilians.

He expressed hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin would stop supporting Assad and stand with the Syrian people.

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