FEBRUARY 26, 2016
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria and the provisional cease-fire proposed by the U.S. and Russia that is to go into effect at midnight (all times local): 2:30 p.m. Russia's Vladimir Putin says his country will keep hitting "terrorist organizations" in Syria even as the U.S.-Russia-engineered truce goes into effect at midnight.
The Russian president reiterated at a meeting of top officials of the Federal Security Service on Friday that the cease-fire does not cover groups such as the Islamic State, the Nusra Front and other factions.
The state news agency Tass quoted him as saying that the "decisive fight against them will certainly continue." Russia says the airstrikes that it began in Syria in late September are directed solely at terrorists, but critics claim Russia is also targeting other fighters who are battling the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a longtime Moscow ally.
Syria's main umbrella of opposition and rebel groups says dozens of factions have agreed to abide by the cease-fire that is due to go into effect at midnight.
The alliance, known as High Negotiations Committee, said in a statement on Friday that 97 factions will abide by the truce. It added that it has formed a military committee to follow up on the truce.
Russia and the United States brokered the cease-fire, which does not include the Islamic State group or the Nusra Front, al-Qaida's branch in Syria.
The Syrian government said it will abide by the truce but will have the right to retaliate for any attacks. The opposition has demanded that Russia and Iran, President Bashar Assad's main backers, also abide by the truce.
A top Turkish presidential aide says Ankara is concerned over Russian bombings and Syrian forces' ground operations ahead of a truce due to go into effect at midnight Friday.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters Friday that Turkey supports the cease-fire agreement in principle but is worried about the continued operations.
Kalin says the "fact that Russian bombings and attacks by (Syrian President Bashar) Assad's forces continued even last night, is leading to serious concerns on the future of the cease-fire."
Kalin also warned the refugee crisis that has hit Europe will escalate unless the Syrian government's ground operations are stopped.
A top aide to Turkey's president says Saudi military aircraft that will join the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria have begun arriving at an air base in southern Turkey.
Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told reporters on Friday that the Saudi deployment to Incirlik air base has started. He did not provide details as to how many aircraft have arrived so far.
The Saudi deployment comes as a U.S. and Russia-engineered cease-fire is due to take effect at midnight on Friday. The truce agreement, however, does not cover the IS, Syria's al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front, or any other militia designated as a terrorist group by the U.N. Security Council.
The Kremlin has denied allegations that Russia's air force bombed civilian positions east of Damascus on the eve of the ceasefire.
During a call with journalists, President Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied accusations made by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that Russia launched airstrikes over the rebel-held town of Douma on Thursday evening.
Peskov says this wasn't "the first time this observation group has published unconfirmed information that isn't backed up by facts."
He added that Russia will continue its military operation in Syria against terrorist groups such as the Islamic State, al-Qaida's branch known as the Nusra Front and others on the U.N. Security Council's list.
Syria's state media and an opposition monitoring group say government forces have captured several villages from Islamic State extremists in the northern province of Aleppo.
The SANA news agency says government troops on Friday took three villages near the town of Khanaser, which they recaptured from the IS group the previous day.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that two villages were taken by the government troops, saying they are working to open the only road linking the city of Aleppo with central and western Syria.
The fighting comes ahead of a cease-fire brokered by the U.S. and Russia, which is to go into effect at midnight. IS is not included in the cease-fire.
IS attacked the Khanaser area Monday, capturing the town only to lose it Thursday.