GENEVA (AP) — The Latest on Syria's civil war, diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict and the upcoming round of peace talks in Geneva (all times local):

8:20 p.m.

Doctors Without Borders says besieged areas in Syria continue to suffer despite a weeks-long cease-fire and limited aid deliveries.

MSF's operations chief Bart Janssens says the "catalog of horror" continues in the besieged areas where reports estimate that half a million Syrians are trapped.

Janssens said in a Thursday statement that in the past two weeks, two field hospitals the international medical charity supports have been bombed in a Damascus suburb.

He says others have been hit by shelling. Janssens says the only doctor remaining in the government-besieged town of Zabadani was shot dead by a sniper and five people in another government besieged town, Madaya, died because few medical evacuations were authorized.

Janssens says essential medical supplies have also gone missing from convoys delivered to besieged areas. MSF called for end to indiscriminate violence against civilians and for urgent medical evacuation.

Dozens of people have died in the past year from starvation or illness related to malnutrition in besieged areas across Syria. Most are besieged by government forces but tens of thousands are also living under the Islamic State group.


5:20 p.m.

The head of Russia's renowned Hermitage art museum says he has submitted a proposal to the Russian president for the museum to get involved in the restoration of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra.

Mikhail Piotrovsky was quoted Thursday by the state news agency Tass as saying the plan submitted to President Vladimir Putin was worked out with the Russian Academy of Sciences.

He said Russian efforts could be part of an international restoration plan that he had discussed with the director of the United Nations' cultural organization UNESCO.

Syrian troops with the support of Russian airstrikes regained control of Palmyra last month. Some of the city's most prominent monuments and archaeological sites were destroyed or damaged when the city was under the control of the Islamic state group.


5 p.m.

Activists say Syrian rebels and allied Islamic groups have advanced into strongholds of the militant Islamic State group in southern and northern Syria and have undermined the group's hold of a border crossing with Turkey.

Activist Bahaa al-Halabi says various factions of the Free Syrian Army entered on Thursday the IS-held town of al-Rai, in northern Aleppo province along the border with Turkey.

Al-Halabi and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights say there are intense clashes underway with militant groups and that the rebels have seized the silos in the northwestern part of the town.

Al-Rai is strategically located on the border with Turkey, serving as the group's access point to supply lines. It also sits along the road to IS stronghold in Aleppo.

The Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committee, say opposition fighters, including al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, are pushing IS-allied fighters out of a stronghold in southern Daraa province.


4:35 p.m.

Syrian state TV says Islamic State militants have kidnapped 300 cement workers and contractors in an area northeast of the capital, Damascus.

The TV says the workers from the al-Badia Cement Company were abducted on Thursday from Dumeir, an area where militants launched a surprise attack against government forces earlier this week.

State-run news agency SANA quoted a source in the company as saying that there has been no success in efforts to establish contact with any of the workers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the Syria conflict, said earlier in the day that contact was lost with dozens of workers in Dumeir.


4:10 p.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria says that the next round of peace talks in Geneva is expected to start sometime around April 13.

Staffan de Mistura says the new round should focus on a political process that he hopes will lead to a "concrete or real beginning of a political transition."

He told reporters in Geneva on Thursday that he is also embarking on a tour that will take him to Damascus and Tehran in search of an understanding about what could be a framework of a political transition.

Two rounds of "proximity talks" involving Syrian opposition and government representatives in Geneva have ended without any progress on ways to end the war in Syria, now in its sixth year.


2:15 p.m.

President Vladimir Putin says Russia's military action in Syria has achieved a key goal of securing the country's state structures.

Putin told a media forum in St. Petersburg on Thursday that the Russian air campaign, which began on Sept. 30, helped strengthen the Syrian state. He said it's essential to prevent the collapse of the Syrian state to stem the flow of refugees to Europe.

The Russian leader also says the Syrian army has continued to make advances against the Islamic State group, even though Russia pulled out some of its warplanes from Syria last month.

Putin hailed contacts between Russia and the United States in securing a Syria cease-fire, which was brokered by Moscow and Washington and which began on Feb. 27. The IS and Syria's al-Qaida branch known as the Nusra Front are excluded from the truce.


2 p.m.

A leader of U.N.-backed humanitarian efforts for Syria says he's "disappointed" with recent efforts to get aid convoys into hard-to-reach and besieged areas, and is calling on the Damascus government to "live up to its promises."

Jan Egeland, the humanitarian aid adviser for the U.N.'s Syria envoy, told reporters on Thursday in Geneva that "April was supposed to be our best month" but that aid delivery is "not getting better and better, it's actually slowing down."

Egeland spoke during a break in U.N.-sponsored indirect talks between the Syrian government and the opposition delegation, which are to resume next week.

Humanitarian assistance to Syria's people is part of an international response to the country's crisis that also includes a U.S.- and Russia-monitored cease-fire that has largely held over the last month.