The Latest: Moscow to host Iranian and Syrian ministers

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

5 p.m.

Russia says it will host the foreign ministers of Iran and Syria for a three-way meeting.

The meeting announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry is set for Friday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that President Vladimir Putin isn’t planning to take part in the meeting.

The meeting comes after the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who arrived in Moscow Tuesday.

It follows last week’s U.S. strike on a Syrian air force base in retaliation for a chemical attack in northern Syria. Russia has denounced the U.S. attack as an “aggression” and argued that the Syrian government wasn’t responsible for the chemical attack.


4:50 p.m.

A Syrian official says Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will visit Russia later this week where he will meet officials in Moscow.

Thursday’s visit comes amid escalating tensions in the Middle East after the U.S. launched a missile attack last week on a central Syrian air base. Washington blamed Damascus for a chemical attack in northern Syria that killed nearly 90 people, a charge that Syria strongly denies.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Tuesday that there might be a three-way meeting later this week in Moscow between officials from Russia, Syria and Iran.

Russia and Iran are the strongest backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

—Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria


4:40 p.m.

Turkey’s health minister says test results conducted on victims of a chemical attack in northern Syria confirm that sarin gas was used.

Recep Akdag said Tuesday that blood and urine samples taken from the victims confirmed that they were subjected to the nerve agent. His comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey last week conducted autopsies on three victims of the gas attack who were brought from Syria.

Officials from the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons participated in the autopsies.


4:30 p.m.

A U.S. military spokesman says the U.S.-led coalition and its allies are paving the way to storm the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.

Col. John L. Dorrian, told reporters in Baghdad Tuesday that “ultimately we’re isolating Raqqa and we are going to, at a time that our partners choose, move in and liberate that city from” IS.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been on the offensive since November capturing territory with the aim of laying siege to Raqqa. The city now is surrounded from three sides.

Dorrian said the operation to liberate Raqqa is the equivalent in Syria of what’s being “done to eliminate the enemy” in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.


2:30 p.m.

Russia’s Defense Ministry says two Russian officers have been killed and one gravely wounded in a mortar attack in Syria.

Russia is a staunch backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been waging an air campaign in support of his forces since 2015.

The ministry announced the deaths Tuesday, but did not specify when or where the attack took place.


2 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists are reporting clashes in the southern city of Daraa between government forces and insurgents, saying that government aircraft have dropped barrel bombs on the city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out when rebels launched an offensive on a government-held area in central Daraa on Monday. It said that by Tuesday, 16 pro-government fighters, including an army colonel, had been killed.

Daraa-based activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh and the Observatory said warplanes carried out raids on Daraa while helicopter gunships dropped at least eight barrels loaded with explosives onto the city.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the use of barrel bombs, which government forces have repeatedly employed throughout the six-year-old conflict, might bring a U.S. response.