The Latest: US says IS convoy still stranded in Syria
Posted September 4
BEIRUT — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):
The U.S.-led coalition says a convoy of hundreds of Islamic State militants and civilians is still stranded in government-held territory in Syria after it prevented them from being relocated from the Lebanon-Syria border under a deal with Hezbollah.
The coalition said Monday that it has it has passed a message to the Syrian government through Russia asking it to separate the fighters from civilians. It says it has not taken any action to prevent food and water from being brought to the evacuees.
Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend says "the Syrian regime is letting women and children suffer in the desert. This situation is completely on them."
The IS fighters and their families evacuated a week ago under a deal with Hezbollah, which agreed to give them safe passage to far eastern Syria, near the Iraqi border, in exchange for the remains of Lebanese soldiers captured in 2014. The U.S.-led coalition and Iraq have condemned the deal, saying IS fighters should be killed on the battlefield.
The coalition has carried out airstrikes to prevent the convoy from reaching IS-held territory, but has not targeted the evacuees themselves.
The U.S.-led coalition says allied Syrian fighters have successfully cleared a centuries-old mosque in Raqqa after seizing the Syrian city's ancient quarters from the Islamic State group.
A coalition statement issued Monday says the seizure of the Old City of Raqqa and especially the Great Mosque is a "milestone" in the battle to defeat IS. It said the force known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, or SDF, went to great lengths to limit damage to infrastructure, including the ancient mosque.
The Great Mosque is the oldest mosque in the city and has been under IS control since 2014, when the extremist group captured the city. IS later made Raqqa the de facto capital of its self-styled caliphate.
The SDF, aided by the U.S.-led coalition, launched their offensive to capture Raqqa on June 6, and have since taken more than half the city.
Syrian opposition activists and state media say government forces are close to breaking a nearly three-year siege imposed by the Islamic State group on parts of the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
Syrian troops and allied militiamen have for months been advancing toward Deir el-Zour, the provincial capital of the oil-rich province of the same name. Government forces are besieged in a handful of neighborhoods as well as a nearby airport.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Monday that the advancing forces are less than 10 kilometers (6 miles) from a besieged, government-held air base known as Brigade 137. If they reach the base, they will be able to lift the siege.
State news agency SANA is reporting the "collapse" of IS defenses in the area.