Middle East

50,000 Syrians amass near Turkish border

Anti-Syrian government activists hold up placards during a sit-in against the ongoing siege imposed on the Syrian town of Madaya in front of the European Union embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. Government troops and allied militiamen have blockaded the rebel-held Syrian town of Madaya near Damascus for months. Doctors Without Borders said later that five people died of starvation after the first U.N. humanitarian aid convoy since October arrived in Madaya on Tuesday afternoon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

Anti-Syrian government activists hold up placards during a sit-in against the ongoing siege imposed on the Syrian town of Madaya in front of the European Union embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Jan. 16, 2016. Government troops and allied militiamen have blockaded the rebel-held Syrian town of Madaya near Damascus for months. Doctors Without Borders said later that five people died of starvation after the first U.N. humanitarian aid convoy since October arrived in Madaya on Tuesday afternoon. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

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

17:00 p.m.

A Turkish charity says about 50,000 people fleeing intense fighting in northern Syria have arrived at a Syrian-Turkish border crossing.

Serkan Nergis of the Islamic charity IHH says displaced Syrians began streaming toward the Bab al-Salam border crossing Thursday.

Nergis said Friday that the group is setting up tent camps in Syria near the crossing to provide temporary shelter. The charity runs about 10 camps for displaced Syrians along the frontier.

The border was closed Friday, and it was not clear if any of the refugees would be admitted to Turkey.

Earlier this week, Syrian troops backed by allied militias and intense Russian air strikes launched an offensive in northern Syria. It appears aimed at eventually encircling the contested city of Aleppo, Syria’s largest.

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15.00 p.m.

Iran’s supreme leader says Iranian forces must fight Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq to prevent the militant organization spreading to Iran.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s comments, which were reported by Tasnim news agency Friday, closely followed the announced death of a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander in Syria.

Iranian officials have said that Iranians have an “obligation” to protect Syrian Shiite shrines.

Iran, a longtime ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad, acknowledges that Iranian officers are providing an advisory role in Syria, but denies sending combat troops.

Several Iranian troops, including high-ranking officers, have been killed in Syria. On Saturday Iran will hold a funeral for Gen. Mohsen Ghajarian, a senior commander killed in recent fighting.

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12:40 p.m.

Syria’s state news agency SANA and an opposition monitoring group say pro-government troops have taken another northern community as part of a weeklong offensive aimed at encircling the country’s largest city, Aleppo.

SANA and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say troops captured the village of Rityan on Friday. The Observatory says the capture was backed by shelling and airstrikes, including by Russian warplanes.

As part of the offensive, which began earlier this week, pro-government troops have recaptured several villages near the Turkish border, sending thousands of area residents fleeing toward Turkey. The territorial gains have driven a west-east wedge into rebel-held areas and brought the government a step closer to being able to encircle contested Aleppo.

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12:00 p.m.

NATO’s secretary general says that Russian airstrikes in Syria that mainly target opposition forces are “undermining efforts to find a political solution to the conflict.”

Jens Stoltenberg says that increased Russian air force activity in Syria also is leading to increased violations of Turkish airspace.

Stoltenberg said Friday that “this creates risks, heightened tensions and is of course a challenge for NATO because they’re violations of NATO’s airspace.”

He was speaking on the sidelines of an informal meeting of European Union defense ministers in Amsterdam.

A Turkish fighter jet downed a Russian bomber at the border with Syria on Nov. 24, the first time in more than half a century that a NATO member had shot down a Russian plane.

Turkey said another Russian warplane violated its airspace a week ago, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Moscow that it would be forced to “endure the consequences” if its jets continue to violate Turkish airspace.

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11:30 a.m.

Turkish officials say thousands of Syrians have massed on the Syrian side of the border seeking refuge in Turkey.

Officials at the government’s crisis management agency said Friday it was not clear when Turkey would open the border to allow the group in and start processing them.

The refugees who fled bombing in Aleppo, were waiting at the Bab al-Salam crossing, opposite the Turkish province of Kilis.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a donors’ conference in London Thursday that some 10,000 Syrians were at the border, and as many as 70,000 others were on the way. Amateur video showed thousands, including women and children, running with their belongings toward the frontier.

Turkey has taken in more than 2.5 million Syrians since the civil war began in 2011.

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11:00 a.m.

A Britain-based monitoring group reports that the Syrian Army and allied militias have retaken a town at the doorstep of Daraa, a contested city that lies between Damascus and the Jordan border.

The conquest opens several supply routes to Daraa, which is divided between government and opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

Daraa was the scene of some of the first protests against President Bashar Assad in 2011 and holds symbolic value in the narrative of the uprising that has since collapsed into a vicious civil war.

Syria’s official news agency says the offensive on Atman, north of Daraa, scattered rebel forces — which it labels terrorists.

Troops advanced under the cover of heavy artillery bombardment and air power, the Observatory reports.

 

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