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LONDON (AP) — The latest on fighting in Syria and Thursday’s Syria aid conference (all times local):

8:30 p.m.

The aid group Mercy Corps says intensified airstrikes and fighting around Aleppo have cut off the main humanitarian route into the Syrian city, and that tens of thousands of civilians are fleeing north toward the border with Turkey.

David Evans, Mercy Corps’ regional program director for the Middle East, said in a statement Thursday that “it feels like a siege of Aleppo is about to begin.”

The statement said that since Wednesday, the group’s operations in northern Syria “have been effectively sliced in half.” It cites information from team members on the ground in Syria.

The aid group says it had been reaching up to half a million people in northern Syria with aid every month.



A Saudi military spokesman says the kingdom is ready to send ground troops to Syria to fight Islamic State group provided coalition leaders agree during an upcoming meeting in Brussels.

Brig. Gen. Ahmed Asiri told The Associated Press on Thursday that Saudi Arabia has taken part in coalition airstrikes against IS since the U.S.-led campaign began in September 2014, but could now provide ground troops.

The United States is scheduled to convene a meeting of defense ministers from countries fighting IS in Brussels this month.

“We are determined to fight and defeat Daesh,” Asiri said, using the Arabic acronym for IS. He didn’t say how many troops the kingdom would send.


4:50 p.m.

Britain’s prime minister says a major international donor conference in London has raised more than $10 billion to help millions of Syrians displaced by war.

David Cameron, who co-hosted the one-day meeting attended by leaders from some 70 countries, says the funds include almost $6 billion pledged for 2016, with another $5 billion committed by the year 2020.

He told reporters that the international community will stand with Syrians for “as long as it takes.”

The United Nations and countries in the region had said they needed $9 billion in assistance just in 2016 as the situation in and near Syria deteriorates. Similar aid conferences for Syria held in previous years have repeatedly fallen short, with last year’s raising just half of the target and forcing cuts to aid programs.


4:30 p.m.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai says she is disappointed it is taking so long to end the war in Syria, but insists that shouldn’t be an excuse to ignore the plight of the country’s refugees.

Speaking to the AP on the sidelines of an international donor conference in London Thursday, the 18-year-old education activist said “it’s really disappointing” that the five-year-old conflict still rages going on, “but we are hoping that a time will come that peace will be restored.”

She said that whether it takes a year, five years or 10 years, “that should not be an excuse to ignore the lives of all Syrian refugees right now.”

Malala and 17-year-old Syrian refugee Mezon al-Melihan came to the conference to push for $1.4 billion for education for children in Syria and in refugee camps.

Malala said she was encouraged by the pledges so far, which include $300 million from the United States for education programs in Jordan and Lebanon.

She said the commitments gave her “great hope that the future of Syrian children will be saved and they will get the opportunity to go to school.”


3:00 p.m.

The Russian military says it has “reasonable grounds” to suspect that Turkey is making intensive preparations for a military invasion of neighboring Syria.

Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said Thursday in a statement that the Russian military has registered “a growing number of signs of hidden preparation of the Turkish armed forces for active actions on the territory of Syria.”

He said images of a checkpoint on the Turkish-Syrian border taken in late October and late January show a buildup of transportation infrastructure that could be used for moving in troops, ammunition and weapons.


14:20 p.m.

State media say two Syrian reporters and a photographer were injured when shrapnel from mortar shells struck a press bus north of the city of Aleppo. The reports blamed rebels for the mortar rounds.

The area saw heavy fighting this week, as pro-government forces backed by Syrian and Russian warplanes captured several villages.

Syrian state media says the journalists injured Thursday worked for Syria’s al-Ikhbariya TV and the official news agency, SANA. An official at al-Ikhbariyeh says the three are in a stable condition.

Meanwhile, opposition activists reported intensive air strikes on rebel-held areas of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city.

The Local Coordination Committees, a Syrian monitoring group, says eight people were killed in the strikes, while the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 21.


13:25 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has distributed food to more than 12,000 residents of a besieged rebel-held town near the Syrian capital of Damascus.

Marianne Gasser, the head of the ICRC delegation in Syria, said Thursday that the residents of Moadamiyeh are “hungry and they need us.”

The Syrian Arab Red Crescent joined the aid convoy, which also distributed medical items to more than 10,000 people.

The situation in Moadamiyeh worsened late last year after the government closed the last access point into the city. Opposition activists have reported dozens of cases of severe malnutrition.

Thursday’s aid delivery is the second to a besieged area this week.

Close to half a million people in Syria live in communities besieged by pro-government forces or rebel fighters.


12:35 p.m.

Turkey’s prime minister says some 10,000 Syrians who have fled Syrian and alleged Russian bombing of Aleppo are waiting at the Turkish border, seeking refuge.

Speaking at the international donors conference in London, Ahmet Davutoglu said up to 70,000 others who had been sheltering in camps north of Aleppo were moving toward the Turkish border.

Turkey says it has taken in more than 2.5 million Syrians since the civil war began in 2011. Davutoglu said the country had so far spent $10 billion on Syrians who have been placed in refugee camps in the country. He said an estimated $20 billion more could be needed to care for those outside of the camps.

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu new agency reports that Davutoglu blamed the failure of the first round of Syrian peace talks in Geneva on continued bombings of “hospitals and schools in Aleppo and Latikia” by the Syrian government forces.


12:15 p.m.

Russia says that Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry agree that both the Syrian government and opposition need to take urgent steps to ensure that humanitarian aid delivered under U.N. auspices was able to reach regions blocked both by government and opposition forces.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said Lavrov and Kerry agreed on Thursday to try to coordinate the delivery of humanitarian aid by military transport planes.

The ministry says they also agreed to make the necessary efforts so that the pause in the Geneva talks was a short as possible, the ministry statement said.


11:45 a.m.

A 7-year-old Syrian girl with cancer has become the first of an estimated 1,000 refugees who are being brought to Italy on humanitarian grounds in a pilot project aimed at dissuading refugees from embarking on deadly sea crossings.

Falak Al Hourani, her parents and 6-year-old brother arrived Thursday at Rome’s Leonardo Da Vinci airport thanks to the “humanitarian corridor” project launched by the Rome-based Catholic Sant’Egidio Community and the Federation of Protestant Churches in Italy.

The two groups lobbied the Italian government to grant a thousand humanitarian visas for refugees in camps in Lebanon, Morocco and Ethiopia and put up the estimated 1.3 million euros ($1.4 million) to process their visas, transport them to Italy and get them resettled here while their asylum applications are processed.


11:25 a.m.

The international aid group Mercy Corps says it was forced to suspend food distribution in several villages in northern Syria because of heavy airstrikes that accompanied a government military offensive.

Mercy Corps said Thursday that escalating air strikes have displaced thousands more people. It says about 21,000 Syrians fleeing the fighting recently arrived at the nearby Turkish border.

The offensive took place north of Aleppo, Syria’s largest city. Mercy Corps says it feeds more than half a million people each month in Aleppo province.

In recent days, pro-government forces have retaken several villages north of Aleppo.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition monitoring group, said Thursday the offensive was backed by airstrikes hitting more than 500 targets.


11:05 a.m.

The United States will provide almost $900 million to help Syrians trapped by civil war and neighboring countries struggling with the crisis.

Secretary of State John Kerry is announcing the contribution Thursday at an international donors conference for Syria in London.

Some $600 million is going to life-saving assistance for Syrians, including food, shelter and camp supplies. That brings total U.S. humanitarian spending on the five-year-old war to $5.1 billion.

Another $290 million will support education in Jordan and Lebanon, including for almost 300,000 Syrian refugees.


10:55 a.m.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says it is “deeply disturbing” that a fragile Syrian peace process is being undermined by increased bombing and the blocking of humanitarian aid to suffering civilians.

Syrian government forces, backed by Russian airstrikes, have increased the pace of attacks on opposition forces in recent days, as U.N.-brokered peace talks struggled to get off the ground in Geneva.

Ban spoke at an international aid conference in London, hours after the talks were suspended for three weeks.

He said that “the coming days should be used to get back to the table, not to secure more gains on the battlefield.”

Ban said the U.N. hopes the one-day conference will raise at least $7 billion, twice as much as last year.


10:30 a.m.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says the Syrian government and Russia must halt attacks on civilians and allow unfettered humanitarian access throughout Syria.

Kerry says December’s U.N. resolution on Syria, supported by Russia, was clear. Aid agencies need to be allowed to reach those in need and shelling of civilian targets must stop.

Kerry spoke Thursday after meeting British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and other top diplomats on the sidelines of Syria Donors Conference in London.

On Wednesday, the U.N. suspended Syrian peace talks amid a renewed offensive by the government and Russia.

Kerry said he spoke Thursday morning with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov by telephone about how to implement a ceasefire.

Hammond said he recognized talking is hard for Syria’s government and opposition. But he said negotiations were the only way to end the conflict.


9:00 a.m.

A monitoring group says more than 500 targets were hit from the air by Syrian and presumably also Russian warplanes during this week’s government offensive which captured strategic areas north of the country’s largest city, Aleppo.

Rami Abdul-Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday that the bombing campaign was one of the most intensive in months. Russia began launching airstrikes late last year to back its ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The Observatory is a group of opposition activists monitoring the five-year-old Syria conflict.

As part of the recent offensive, pro-government forces on Wednesday broke a three-year-old rebel siege of two Shiite Muslim towns near Aleppo. On Thursday, residents embraced and cheered pro-government fighters entering the towns.


7:00 a.m.

Leaders and diplomats from 70 countries are meeting in London to pledge billions to help millions of Syrians displaced by war — and try to slow the chaotic exodus of refugees to Europe.

Thursday’s conference aims to agree plans for economic and educational projects to assist 4.6 million Syrians who have sought refuge in Jordan, Lebanon and other neighboring countries.

The U.N. and regional countries say they need $9 billion in assistance for 2016.

Conference co-host Britain has pledged 1.2 billion pounds ($1.75 billion) in new aid by 2020, and Secretary of State John Kerry is due to announce a big U.S. commitment later.

Organizers believe finding jobs and schools for refugees in the Middle East can help increase regional stability and keep displaced Syrians from fleeing to Europe.