The Latest: Al-Qaida fighters in Syria want to go to Idlib

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This photo released on Wednesday March 7, 2018 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, shows Syrian government soldiers advancing during a battle against Syrian rebels, in eastern Ghouta, Syria. The International Committee of the Red Cross said a second convoy that was supposed to carry aid to the besieged rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus was postponed Thursday because of the violence and rapidly evolving situation on the ground. (SANA via AP)

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

9 p.m.

The largest rebel group in eastern suburbs of the capital Damascus says they have agreed with a U.N. team that entered the besieged area to evacuate al-Qaida-linked fighters from the district.

In a statement Friday, The Army of Islam said that the first batch of fighters to be evacuated is currently detained in the group’s prisons in eastern Ghouta.

The Army of Islam said that the detainees from the al-Qaida-linked Levant Liberation Committee have asked to be sent to the rebel-held province of Idlib in Syria’s northwest.

It was not immediately clear if the government would accept such a relocation which will involve passing through state-controlled areas to reach Idlib.

In a letter last month to U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, the three main rebel factions in eastern Ghouta said they were committed to making al-Qaida-linked fighters and their families leave within 15 days.


6:20 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says it has delivered along with the U.N. and Syrian paramedics urgently needed aid to the besieged eastern suburbs of Damascus “despite fighting that took place extremely close to the humanitarian convoy.”

ICRC says it delivered Friday along with the U.N. and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent 2,400 food parcels that can sustain 12,000 people for one month, as well as 3,248 wheat flour bags.

Robert Mardini, ICRC’s regional director for the Near and Middle East, said in a statement that they were taken aback by fighting that broke out despite guarantees from the parties involved that aid could enter eastern Ghouta.

Mardini added that “as more aid is needed in the coming days, it is absolutely critical that these assurances be renewed and respected in the future.”


3:20 p.m.

Turkey’s president says Turkish troops and Ankara-backed opposition fighters have encircled the main city in a Syrian Kurdish-held enclave in northwest Syria and are on the verge of entering it.

In a speech in Ankara on Friday Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish forces, which took control of the key town of Jinderes on Thursday, were 6 kilometers away from the city of Afrin.

“Afrin (city) is encircled. God willing, we are may enter Afrin (city) any moment,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan reiterated Turkey’s resolve to advance to Manbij — a region east of Afrin, where the U.S. has a military presence — and other Syrian Kurdish held locations east of the Euphrates river, once the offensive on the enclave is completed.

Ankara considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters “terrorists” and allied with Kurdish insurgents fighting inside Turkey.


2:50 p.m.

Relief workers used a brief lull in Damascus’ embattled rebel-held suburbs to try and deliver remaining aid left over from a mission earlier in the week but were interrupted by renewed violence shorty after their team entered eastern Ghouta on Friday.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said a convoy of 13 trucks with supplies, including food parcels for 12,000 people, went into Douma — the largest and most populated town in the rebel-held eastern Ghouta, on the edge of the Syrian capital — earlier in the day.

Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Douma was shelled before the convoy went in.

Once the relief workers arrived, Syrian government forces shelled the outskirts of the town, he said.

Reports were sketchy and it was not immediately clear if the ICRC had offloaded all the aid.

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