The Latest: Syrian official says evacuations to start Friday


BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria (all times local):

10:30 p.m.

A local official involved in the planned evacuations from four besieged areas in Syria says buses will start moving after sunrise Friday.

Preparations had been underway Thursday for the evacuation of more than 10,000 residents from two pro-government Shiite villages in northern Syria, Foua and Kfarya, and the rebel-held towns of Madaya and Zabadani, near Damascus.

Dozens of buses entered the four areas, but no one had boarded them by late Thursday, according to opposition activists in Madaya and Zabadani.

Hakim Baghdadi, a member of the relief committee for Foua and Kfarya, told The Associated Press that evacuations will begin after sunrise Friday because it is safer.

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9:45 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to support an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons into the use of chemical weapons in northern Syria.

Erdogan’s office said in a statement that the two leaders held a telephone conversation on Thursday, during which the Turkish leader stressed that the use of chemical weapons “is the greatest crime against humanity.”

The statement says “the two leaders agreed that the attack in question be investigated by the OPCW, which is an independent organization whose legitimacy is recognized.”

Erdogan and Putin also discussed peace efforts for Syria and their joint efforts to extend a cease-fire agreement to the whole of the country.

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6 p.m.

Lebanon’s state-run National News Agency says security force have arrested one of the most wanted men involved in “terrorism” and in backing al-Qaida’s branch in Syria.

The agency said Thursday that Jalal Mansour was detained in northern Lebanon after changing his looks and using a fake identity card for months.

It said Mansour admitted to fighting against Lebanese troops in northern Lebanon in the past and was involved in smuggling weapons to the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front in Syria, now known as the Fatah al-Sham Front.

Mansour’s brother, Osama was killed in a gunbattle with security forces in northern Lebanon in 2015.

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4:30 p.m.

The U.S. military says a misdirected airstrike this week killed 18 allied fighters battling the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

U.S. Central Command said Thursday that coalition aircraft were given the wrong coordinates by their partner forces, the predominantly-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces, for a strike intended to target Islamic State militants south of their Tabqa stronghold.

The strike hit an SDF position instead, killing 18 fighters. Central Command says the incident occurred on Tuesday.

The SDF, with the help of air and ground support from the U.S.-led coalition, has surrounded Tabqa.

Several nations have lent their air power to the coalition to defeat the Islamic State group. It is not clear which air force was behind the strike.

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1:30 p.m.

Russia’s foreign minister says Moscow expects the United Nations’ chemical weapons watchdog to conduct an extensive probe into last week’s chemical attack in Syria.

Sergey Lavrov said Thursday that inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should both visit the Syrian air base, which the U.S. said had served as a platform for the attack, and the town of Khan Sheikhoun that was hit to get a full and objective picture.

He said Russia vetoed a Western draft U.N. resolution Wednesday because it failed to mention the need to inspect the area of the attack.

The U.S. blamed the Syrian government for launching the attack, but Russia claimed that the victims were killed by toxic agents released from a rebel chemical arsenal hit by Syrian warplanes.

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1:05 p.m.

A British delegation at a behind-closed-doors meeting of the international chemical weapons watchdog says in a tweet that the organization’s director general has said that its investigators already are testing samples from a suspected deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province.

The British delegation tweet says that Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu told Thursday’s hastily convened meeting of its executive council that the “Fact Finding Mission is working to gather evidence” about the April 4 attack in Khan Sheikhoun that killed nearly 90 people.

It says that samples already are being tested and the mission is expected to report its findings in three weeks.

The OPCW’s Fact Finding Mission in Syria investigates alleged attacks, but does not apportion blame.

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12:50 p.m.

U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces say they have entered the fourth stage of their campaign to capture the Islamic State group’s de facto capital Raqqa with an advance on the militants in a valley north of the city.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, which include Arab fighters, say they are working to clear the militants out of the Jalab Valley, north of Raqqa. An estimated 300,000 people are in the city.

The SDF says it wants to isolate Raqqa before attacking it. Their closest position is within 8 kilometers (5 miles) northeast of the city. But the countryside south of Raqqa is still under IS control.

It is unclear how many stages are planned for the SDF campaign.