US-backed Syrian forces capture IS-held town

(ABC News) — A U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led militia on Tuesday drove Islamic State militants from a northern Syrian town where the extremists had once run a training camp named for Osama Bin Laden.

The Syrian Democratic Forces have been advancing against IS on both sides of the Euphrates River Valley in Syria while battling the group for control of its de facto capital, Raqqa, with U.S. air and ground support.

The SDF captured al-Ukayrshi, 14 kilometers (9 miles) southeast of Raqqa and once home to a sprawling jihadi military installation, said spokesman Mustafa Bali.

The IS-run Aamaq news agency reported only that the militants had blown up a car bomb in the town Monday, killing 11 Kurdish fighters.

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The IS group is reported to have killed more than 200 of its own members in al-Ukayrshi in 2015, suspecting that they had defected to a rival faction, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

In Geneva, Syria’s U.N. Ambassador Bashar al-Ja’afari appealed to “genuine partners” to help end his country’s devastating six-year war, insisting that such international cooperation must involve President Bashar Assad’s government.

The ambassador spoke to reporters after a meeting in Geneva with the U.N. envoy for Syria as part of the seventh and latest round of indirect peace talks.

Al-Ja’afari said the discussions Wednesday morning focused on the fight against terrorism — long the major focus of the Assad government in the Geneva talks. He said government experts were also expected to take up technical talks on political issues.

U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters on Monday that he doesn’t expect any breakthroughs, but rather “incremental” progress in the talks set to run through Friday.

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Also Tuesday, hundreds of Syrians arrived to their hometown, Homs, by bus, after electing to return to living under government authority instead of under the auspices of Turkey in north Syria.

Homs Governor Talal Barazi told The Associated Press that some 630 residents had returned to the al-Waer neighborhood in Homs from Jarablus after finding conditions there too difficult. Jarablus is controlled by Turkish troops and allied Syrian forces.

More than 20,000 residents evacuated al-Waer this spring after rebels holding the neighborhood agreed to surrender it back to the control of the government. Those who left included fighters and their families, activists fearing retribution at the hands of the government authorities, and military-age men refusing conscription into the military.

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