BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on Syria (all times local):
The U.S.-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group says the Kurdish-led Syrian opposition forces’ capture of a key town and nearby dam in eastern Syria from the militants undermines IS’s ability to defend its de facto capital, Raqqa.
Thursday’s coalition statement says the fall of Tabqa and its dam the day before also denies IS “a key coordination hub” used by the group’s foreign fighters since 2013 to plan operations and attacks against the West.
Tabqa had served as a base for IS’s foreign fighters and for planning operations in other countries since the militants lost other territories in northern Syria. The U.S-backed Kurdish-led operation to seize Tabqa began in late March.
The statement also says that in the final days of the battle, around 70 IS fighters withdrew from the town, leaving heavy weapons behind them. The move allowed for the dismantling of land mines around the dam.
Coalition spokesman Col. John Dorrian says the capture of Tabqa is “yet another victory” for the Kurdish-led forces — one that also averted a humanitarian disaster.
There had been fears of a flooding disaster if the explosives were detonated.
The main Kurdish force in Syria says it will seek “neighborly relations” with Turkey, which views it as a terrorist organization.
Redur Khalil, the spokesman for the Kurdish militia known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG, on Thursday called on Turkey to let go of its “unjustified” fears of the group, which is battling Islamic State militants with the help of U.S.-led airstrikes.
The Trump administration says it will supply the Syrian Democratic Forces, of which the YPG is the main component, with heavier weapons ahead of a push on the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the IS group’s de facto capital.
Ankara views the YPG as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has been waging a decades-old insurgency in Turkey. The U.S. and other Western nations also view the PKK as a terrorist group.
Khalil dismissed the label, saying the U.S. would not supply arms to terrorists.
The U.N.’s Syria envoy says a plan crafted by world powers to establish safe zones in the war-battered country should only be seen as an “interim” arrangement and not a precursor to partition.
Staffan de Mistura said Thursday that the proposal agreed upon by Russia, Iran and Turkey last week could lead to increased access by aid groups. But he said the safe zones should not be used as launch pads for new military operations.
De Mistura spoke ahead of a planned resumption of U.N.-mediated talks between the Syrian government and opposition next week in Geneva.
Syrian Kurdish-led forces say they are carrying out mine-clearing operations at the country’s largest dam and the nearby town of Tabqa a day after seizing them from Islamic State militants.
The media office of the Syrian Democratic Forces said Thursday a special operation was underway to de-mine the dam and the surrounding area.
Concerns were raised earlier this year that the dam could be damaged in the fighting or degraded by lack of maintenance, or that the extremists might sabotage it to flood the surrounding areas.
The capture of Tabqa seven weeks after the launch of the SDF offensive, with help from the U.S.-led coalition, sets the stage for an advance on Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the extremists’ self-styled caliphate, some 25 miles (40 kilometers) to the east.