The Latest: Deal reached to evacuate besieged Syrians




BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in the Syrian conflict and talks (all times Beirut local):

2:30 p.m.

Syrian activists and the Lebanese Al-Manar TV say a deal has been reached to evacuate 500 residents from four besieged Syrian communities.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday six people were evacuated on medical grounds from Foua and Kfraya villages while two were evacuated from Zabadani in the deal sponsored by the United Nations and coordinated by the Red Crescent. The U.N. declined comment.

The evacuation would be the first major one since a February cease-fire, which has all but collapsed amid renewed violence. In December, 460 people from the four communities were evacuated.

Madaya northeast of Damascus and Zabadani near the border with Lebanon have been besieged by government and allied militia for months. Fouaa and Kfarya in the northern province of Idlib are blockaded by rebels for over a year.

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1:20 p.m.

The head of a Turkey-based Syrian opposition group says that the government of President Bashar Assad has effectively "buried" the cessation of hostilities with its continuous attacks across the country.

Anas al-Abda, the leader of the Syrian National Coalition, says at a press conference Wednesday there will be no quick return to peace talks in Geneva if the current situation continues.

He also warns that the peace negotiations may "collapse completely."

The cease-fire agreement in place since Feb. 27 has all but collapsed amid fierce fighting in Syria's north.

The opposition delegation to the talks in Geneva suspended its participation in protest although it kept a small technical team there.

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11:45 am.m

Activists and a media outlet associated with militants say the Islamic State group has seized control of a government-controlled neighborhood in Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria, expanding its presence in the province.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says Wednesday the group's militants clashed heavily overnight with government troops and allied forces, advancing in the city's industrial district. The Observatory says five airstrikes hit the neighborhood, but there were no immediate word of casualties or who was behind the strikes.

The IS-linked Aamaq news agency said IS has expelled government troops from the district. The militant group now edges closer to a much-coveted military air base.

IS lost control to the government of the city of Palmyra, but has also repelled attacks from other rebel groups in the north.

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