The Latest: ICRC says badly ill removed from suburb in Syria

The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

12:30 p.m.

The International Committee of the Red Cross says evacuations continue of critically ill Syrians from a besieged rebel-held area where conditions have reached alarming levels.

The Army of Islam, a prominent rebel group in eastern Ghouta, said Wednesday the evacuation of 29 critically ill persons was conditional on it releasing an equivalent number of captives it held.

Activists said at least five critically ill were evacuated late Tuesday.

The evacuation was coordinated between the ICRC and the Syrian Arab Red Crescent. Mona Kurdi, spokeswoman for SARC, said the evacuees were taken to hospitals in government-controlled Damascus but had comments on their conditions.

The government recently tightened its siege on eastern Ghouta, home to nearly 400,000 people, refusing to allow hundreds of critically ill to reach hospitals minutes away, the United Nations said.

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12 p.m.

Russia's foreign minister says a Moscow-proposed peace congress scheduled for next month is crucial for reaching a settlement in Syria and is not hampering United Nations-led talks.

Sergey Lavrov's statement on Wednesday comes a day after several dozen Syrian opposition groups issued a series of statements saying the talks in Russia's Sochi next month are an attempt to "circumvent" the U.N.-led peace process.

Lavrov, who was meeting with Syrian opposition leader Ahmad Jarba on Wednesday, told Russian news agencies that the Sochi congress would lay the groundwork for U.N.-led talks. The Russian minister quoted "broad support" for the Sochi talks among Syrians and said Russia's goal is to gather together the largest number of opposition groups possible to help launch constitutional reform in the war-torn country.