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February 15, 2019

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As US moves to quit Syria, other nations discuss new joint strategy

The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran met for talks yesterday on how to work more closely in Syria as Washington prepares to withdraw its troops from the war-torn country.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosted Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani for the talks in the southern city of Sochi.

Russia and Iran — who both back the government of President Bashar al-Assad — and rebel supporter Turkey have positioned themselves as the key foreign players in Syria’s long-running war.

The eight-year conflict has left more than 360,000 dead.

Meeting with Erdogan ahead of the summit, Putin said he was confident the talks would give a “new impulse” to efforts to resolve the conflict.

“We have done a lot together, we have come a long way,” Putin said.

The talks came as Kurdish-led forces battled to expel Islamic State group fighters from the small town of Baghouz in eastern Syria, the last bastion of their “caliphate” that once controlled large parts of the country.

IS jihadists using tunnels and suicide bombers were mounting a desperate defense yesterday of their last square kilometer.

Kurdish-led forces closed in on Baghouz where IS fighters and their relatives were hunkered down and met famished and disheveled people turning themselves in.

“The fighting is fierce,” said Adnan Afrin, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-Arab outfit that has spearheaded the campaign against IS with backing from a US-led coalition.

“There is significant resistance,” he said in Al-Omar oil field, the main staging base for the SDF’s offensive.

The few hundred fighters of various nationalities holding out in their last bastion by the Iraqi border have launched bruising counterattacks in recent days, Afrin said. The jihadists are clinging to about 1 square kilometer in the town’s built-up area, as well as to an adjacent camp, where a number of civilians are believed to be gathered.

Afrin said it was impossible to provide accurate figures but he estimated the total number of fighters at around 1,000.

“There are many tunnels in Baghouz now. This is why the operation is dragging on. There are many suicide bombers attacking our positions, with explosives-laden cars and motorbikes,” he said.

Afrin said two such suicide attacks were carried out by women on Tuesday.


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