The Latest: China envoy hails Syria peace talks 'momentum'

AP News
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Posted: Mar 22, 2017 11:50 AM
The Latest: China envoy hails Syria peace talks 'momentum'

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

5:50 p.m.

China's envoy for the Syria crisis says the "momentum of peace dialogue will not be stopped" as U.N.-mediated talks are expected to resume.

Xie Xiaoyan spoke to reporters a day before Syrian government and opposition delegations were set to convene for a fifth round of talks in Geneva. He urged the two sides to give up the "illusion" that battleground gains could influence the political process.

Xie also said Wednesday that the United Nations should remain the "main channel of mediation," and he expressed concern about a recent upsurge in fighting.

The talks are to focus on governance, elections, a new constitution, and the fight against terrorism.

Xie hailed the two sides' agreement to make "incremental steps forward" and said he expects "at one point, we'll see a breakthrough: Not now, but at some stage."

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5:40 p.m.

The US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group says it has no indications an airstrike struck civilians near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, following reports of dozens killed in an attack that struck a school sheltering displaced people.

In a statement Wednesday, however, the coalition acknowledged conducting several airstrikes near Raqqa and said it would investigate the claims of civilian casualties.

The activist-run Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said earlier that a school sheltering some 50 families in Mansoura was leveled by airstrikes on Tuesday morning. Mansoura is 26 kilometers (16 miles) west of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the extremists' so-called caliphate.

The activist group said Wednesday morning the families were still unaccounted for.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that 33 bodies had been pulled from the rubble.

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4:35 p.m.

A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. military has provided an airlift for Syrian fighters taking part in an offensive underway on the town of Tabqa, west of the Islamic State group's stronghold of Raqqa.

Eric Pohan said on Tuesday that U.S. military advisers are also on the ground in the Tabqa area to help coordinate the operation. He says no U.S. troops are doing front-line fighting and declined to say how many U.S. troops are involved or what kind of aircraft were used to ferry the Syrian Arab fighters to the area.

The mission is being conducted by the U.S.-backed coalition known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, a combination of Syrian Arabs and Kurds.

Pohan says the U.S. airlift was provided only for the Arab fighters.

He says "this is significant as a strategic target" and if successful, the operation would "basically cut ISIS off" from western approaches to Raqqa, the de facto IS capital.

Pohan said Tabqa is an important IS-held area because it includes a dam that provides electricity to the area, as well as a military airfield.

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3 p.m.

A U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish coalition says the U.S. has landed infantry behind Islamic State lines to spearhead an assault on the town of Tabqa.

The Syrian Democratic Forces say the U.S. has airlifted several Marines and SDF fighters by helicopter into Islamic State-held territory, capturing four villages, and cutting the main artery running between the extremists' de facto capital, Raqqa, and the western countryside.

It was not immediately possible to confirm the deployment with U.S. commanders.

The group said in a statement on social media Wednesday that the operation was in preparation for an assault on Tabqa, an IS redoubt 45 kilometers (28 miles) west of Raqqa.

The activist-run group Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently said 500 U.S. and Syrian Kurdish forces were deployed in the operation Wednesday morning. The group relies on local contacts to smuggle information out of IS territory.

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11:15 a.m.

Syrian activists say dozens of civilians are dead or still missing after an airstrike on a shelter for the displaced in an Islamic State-held village in northern Syria.

The activist-run Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently says a school sheltering some 50 families in Mansoura was leveled by airstrikes on Tuesday morning. Mansoura is 26 kilometers (16 miles) west of Raqqa, the de facto capital to the extremists' so-called caliphate.

The activist group said Wednesday morning the families were still unaccounted for.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that 33 bodies had been pulled from the rubble.

The two organizations rely on local contacts to smuggle news out of Islamic State-held territory.