The Latest: WFP practices for new airdrops of aid to Syria

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria as U.N.-brokered peace talks in Geneva carry on into their fifth day (all times local):

6:30 p.m.

The U.N. food assistance agency is exploring use of different aircraft and parachute systems to try to airdrop food into a Syrian city surrounded by the extremist Islamic State group after a previous airdrop largely failed.

World Food Program spokeswoman Bettina Luescher said on Friday that practice drops are underway in Jordan. She says WFP is speaking with partners inside the Syrian city of Deir el-Zour to try to improve drop-zone conditions.

U.N. officials have said food on pallets missed targets or was destroyed when parachutes didn't open in an airdrop last month aimed for the city of 200,000 people.

The U.N. says convoys have delivered aid to 260,000 people in besieged or hard-to-reach areas in recent weeks. On Thursday, food, sanitation items and supplies to help 60,000 people reached four towns.


5:55 p.m.

The Syrian government side is saying little about how the peace talks in Geneva, now in their fifth day, are progressing.

Bashar Ja'afari, the head of the government team and Syria's U.N. ambassador, says Friday's round was "useful" and focused on "fundamental principles" for a solution to the Syrian conflict that his side had presented.

He declined to respond to questions from reporters after emerging from two-an-a-half-hour discussions with U.N. special envoy Staffan de Mistura.

Earlier, the opposition said the government is "procrastinating" and not engaging in serious negotiations.


4 p.m.

Russia's Defense Ministry says its warplanes in Syria are flying in support of the Syrian army's offensive to try recapture ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi says Russian aircraft based in Syria are conducting 20-25 sorties a day in support of the Syrian military's offensive.

That's despite a Russian drawdown in Syria that President Vladimir Putin ordered this week in support of the Geneva talks.

Rudskoi told reporters in Moscow on Friday that the Syrian army has seized key hilltop points near Palmyra and has cut supply routes leading to the IS-held city. He says the Syrian army is close to taking control of the city from the Islamic State group.


2:30 p.m.

The spokesman for the main Syrian opposition delegation at the indirect peace talks in Geneva has accused the Damascus government of "procrastinating" and not engaging fully in the negotiations.

Salem Al Meslet of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee says Syrian President Bashar Assad's negotiators are not serious about the indirect talks and refused to negotiate with the opposition.

The U.N. special envoy, Staffan de Mistura, is hosting separate talks with the HNC and the Syrian government team on Friday in Geneva, where negotiations got under way this week to try end the five-year war.

Al Meslet also says Syrian refugees would eventually return home, once the government stops bombing and killing civilians.

He expressed hope that Russian President Vladimir Putin would stop supporting Assad and stand with the Syrian people.