Syrian military takes control of flashpoint Kurdish-held town
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Syrian military takes control of flashpoint Kurdish-held town

Syria says it raised the state flag in Manbij after the Kurds, left exposed by a US pledge to withdraw troops, asked for the regime’s help facing a threatened Turkish offensive

Syrian government soldiers ride in an army truck near the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 6, 2018, after they regained control over it from rebel forces. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)
Syrian government soldiers ride in an army truck near the Nassib border crossing with Jordan in the southern province of Daraa on July 6, 2018, after they regained control over it from rebel forces. (AFP PHOTO / Mohamad ABAZEED)

Syria’s military announced Friday it has taken control of the flash-point Kurdish-held town of Manbij, where Turkey has threatened an offensive.

The announcement was quickly welcomed by the Kremlin, whose spokesman Dmitry Peskov called it a “positive step” that could help stabilize the situation.

There was no immediate comment from Turkey or the US, whose troops have been patrolling the town and the tense front line between Manbij and adjacent towns where Turkey-backed fighters were based.

Turkey, which views the Kurdish militia as a terrorist group, had been threatening a military operation against Manbij. Turkey and its allied fighters have been amassing troops around Manbij in recent days.

A US soldier sits on an armored vehicle at a newly installed position in Manbij, north Syria, April 4, 2018. (Hussein Malla/AP)

The announcement came after the Kurds, left exposed by a US pledge to pull out its own troops, asked for the regime’s help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.

A timetable for the US withdrawal has not yet been made public, but the surprise decision rattled allies and the US Syrian Kurdish partners, who scrambled to find new allies to protect their Kurdish-administered areas in north Syria.

The Syrian government has said it welcomes the Kurdish group returning under its authority. But government officials have stated they will not consider an autonomous area, a main demand for the Kurds.

The Syrian military declaration came shortly after the main Syrian Kurdish militia invited the government to seize control of Manbij to prevent a Turkish attack. The development signals the two sides have agreed to the new arrangement and the Syrian military said it raised the state flag in Manbij.

The Syrian military said it was responding to calls from residents of Manbij and promised safety for all living there.

Syria’s entry into Manbij comes a day before Moscow is to host top Turkish officials to discuss the crisis in Syria after the United States announced its withdrawal.

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