- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 18, 2017

BEIRUT (AP) - The Latest on the developments in Syria after the liberation of the city of Raqqa from the Islamic State group (all times local):

11 p.m.

The White House says the imminent liberation of the Islamic State stronghold of Raqqa will open a new phase in the Syrian conflict.

Spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday the fall of the Iraqi city of Mosul earlier this year along with Raqqa’s expected liberation makes clear that the group’s so-called caliphate is crumbling across Iraq and Syria.

U.S.-allied Syrian forces say they have driven IS from Raqqa, once the group’s de facto capital, and that clearing operations are underway.

Sanders blames the Syrian government for hindering previous efforts to free Raqqa.

She says defeating IS was one of President Donald Trump’s core campaign promises. Sanders says the U.S. and its partners in the coalition against ISIS will continue to seek the “de-escalation” of violence in other battlefields across Syria.


3 p.m.

A media outlet affiliated with the Syrian military says a senior commander who led the fight against Islamic Sate militants in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour has been killed.

The Central Military Media said on Wednesday that Brig. Gen. Issam Zahreddine was killed in Hawija Saqr, east of Deir el-Zour, in operations against IS militants.

The Lebanese Al-Manar TV, which is close to the Syrian government, said a land mine killed him.

Zahreddine was a key commander in the Syrian army, maintaining a government presence in Deir el-Zour despite a nearly three years-long siege on his forces. The siege was breached in September in a Russian-backed offensive, and the government and allied troops have since seized most of the city.

Zahreddine, who was in his late 50s, also led government offensives against armed opposition in the central Homs province and near the capital, Damascus, in the earlier days of the Syrian conflict.

In comments widely played after Deir el-Zour’s siege was breached, Zahreddine warned those who fled the country not to return because the army “will never forget or forgive.” He later apologized on state TV.


11:30 a.m.

The spokesman for U.S.-backed forces fighting Islamic State militants in Syria says the fighters are removing land mines and clearing main roads in the city of Raqqa, a day after they announced it was captured.

Mustafa Bali, the Syrian Democratic Forces spokesman, says preparations are also underway on Wednesday for a formal declaration of the liberation.

SDF announced on Tuesday that their troops have taken full control of the city, once the heart of IS’ self-styled caliphate.

Brett McGurk, the top U.S. envoy for the coalition battling the Islamic State group, is in northern Syria. He posted a photograph of surrendering IS militants, saying: “once purported as fierce, now pathetic and a lost cause.”

McGurk says the United States will help in clearing explosives and restoring services in the city.

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