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The latest news on Syria from Business Insider

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    Nikki Haley

    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Wednesday that she believes President Donald Trump's warning to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad two days earlier not to use chemical weapons saved many innocent lives.

    Haley was testifying before the House Foreign Affairs Committee when Rep. Ed Royce (R., Calif.), the committee's chairman, asked if there has been any reaction to Trump's warning.

    Haley told Royce that the Trump administration has not observed an incident yet but said the president's statement was still necessary because the U.S. had seen similar preparations to what occurred before the Assad regime used chemical weapons on civilians on April 4.

    After the April 4 chemical weapons attack, which killed dozens of people including children, the U.S. military launched cruise missiles at a Syrian government airfield.

    Haley said Trump's message was also a warning to Iran and Russia, both of which support Assad in the Syrian conflcit, "that this was something we were not going to put up with."

    "So I would like to think that the president saved many innocent men, women, and children," Haley said.

    SEE ALSO: Why the White House scrambled to put out a new warning about chemical weapons in Syria

    Join the conversation about this story »

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    Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters stand with their weapons north of Raqqa city, Syria March 8, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    BEIRUT (Reuters) - The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) sees a "big possibility of open, fierce confrontation" with Turkish forces in an area of northwestern Syria where the sides exchanged fire on Wednesday, a senior SDF official said on Thursday.

    Naser Haj Mansour, an advisor to the SDF, told Reuters the SDF had taken a decision to confront Turkish forces "if they try to go beyond the known lines" in the area where Turkey-backed Syrian rebels say Ankara has recently deployed extra forces.

    Mansour also said a Turkish attack on SDF-held areas would "do great harm" to the SDF campaign to drive Islamic State from its base of operations at Raqqa by drawing SDF fighters away from frontlines at the city. 

    (Reporting by Tom Perry; editing by Toby Chopra)

    SEE ALSO: The US, Russia, and Iran are edging closer to an all-out clash in Syria

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    us special forces raqqa syria

    An unknown number of U.S. special operations forces have surfaced in a Kurdish-controlled city in northern Syria near the Turkish border as the U.S.-led coalition struggles to prevent the war against ISIS from escalating into a full-blown regional conflict, Military Times reports.

    A video posted to social media by @AfarinMamosta, an avid chronicler of the Syrian civil war with a large Twitter following, on June 28 appears to shows American troops in Tal Abyad, a city held by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG, since the militia seized it from ISIS with the help of coalition airstrikes in 2015.

    In the video, U.S. troops are driving machine gun-mounted pick-up trucks, or technicals, affixed with large American flags. Their arrival coincides with an uptick in cross-border skirmishes between the YPG and Turkish troops who have been amassing in northern Syria over the past week, joined by proxy forces fighting under the banner of the Free Syrian Army.    

    Both the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a spokesperson for the YPG told Military Times that there has been shelling in the area in recent days.

    “This is a response to the Turkish forces who want to enter this area,” a man in the video says, presumably referring to the arrival of the American troops.

    The Turkish government considers the YPG a terrorist organization and, despite their status as a key NATO ally in the region, Turkish forces now seem more focused on fighting the Kurds than on contributing to the campaign to destroy ISIS, which entered a crucial phase three weeks ago when coalition-backed local forces, including members of the YPG and its all-female wing, the YPJ, entered the terrorist stronghold of Raqqa.  

    As the fight in Raqqa rages on, it’s becoming increasingly clear that not all of the major players in the Syrian Civil War, which erupted from a peaceful protest movement in 2011, see the defeat of ISIS as their primary goal. In southern Syria, along the border of Iraq and Jordan, Iranian-backed militants loyal to the regime of Bashar al-Assad have repeatedly tested the deconfliction zones surrounding the Tanf Garrison, which houses anti-ISIS Syrian fighters and their U.S. and British advisors, each time eliciting a swift and brutal response from the coalition.     

    syrian kurds ypg

    Meanwhile, the Trump administration’s recent decision to arm the YPG threatens to create similar tension between Turkey and the Kurds in the north of the country. That decision has frayed Washington’s relationship with Ankara, and seems to have added more urgency to Turkey’s ultimate mission of preventing an autonomous Kurdish state from being established just south of its border. The Turkish government considers the YPG an extension of the Kurdish PKK, an organization designated a terrorist group by the United States, the European Union, and Ankara. The PKK has been waging an insurgency in southeastern Turkey for decades.     

    Whether a small number of U.S. troops is enough to deter Turkish forces from entering Tal Abyad and the surrounding region remains to be seen, but so far efforts to quell Turkey’s fears through diplomatic means have proved futile. When coalition officials offered a weak pledge  to track and eventually take back all of the weapons doled out to the YPG, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan responded: “The ones who think they are tricking Turkey by saying they are going to get back the weapons that are being given to this terrorist organization will realize that they are making a mistake eventually.”

    Erdogan added that any country arming the YPG would ultimately “pay for any bullet that will be fired on [Turkey], for every drop of blood that will be shed,” according to Reuters. He was, of course, referring to the United States, whose troops are now all that seem to be standing between Turkish troops and the YPG.           

    The scene captured in the video harkens back to the arrival of U.S. Army Rangers in the Syrian village of Manbij in April following threats from Turkey to eject any Kurds who remained in the village after ISIS was flushed out. The Rangers, whose mission was to keep the peace, arrived in a convoy of Strykers, each outfitted with a large American flag. Peace was maintained.  

    But Washington’s relationship with Turkey is more strained now as the U.S.-led coalition appears to have settled on the YPG as its most vital ally in the fight against ISIS. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis suggested on June 27 that the U.S. may continue to arm the Kurds after the battle of Raqqa.

    syria special forces (nat story)

    “We have a small number of special operations forces that continue their train, advise and assist mission throughout northern Syria, but we are not going to discuss the location or number of U.S. special forces for operational security and force protection reasons,” U.S Central Command said in a statement to Task & Purpose, responding to several questions.

    But CENTCOM didn’t answer the most important question: What happens if Turkish troops actually fire on Americans?

    This may have already happened: Jenan Moussa, a Middle Eastern news correspondent for Dubai-based Al Alan TV, concluded an interview with U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk by announcing on Twitter that she was told by “reliable sources” that the Turkish army has fired “various times” in the direction of U.S. troops stationed along the border.

    “[They] weren’t hit by Turkish small arms fire,” Moussa wrote. “But [the] message from [the] Turkish side was clear.”

    SEE ALSO: 'Their fictitious state has fallen': Iraqi forces have captured the historic Mosul mosque where ISIS declared its 'caliphate'

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    A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) walks out of a building on June 27, 2017 on the western city limits of Raqa after the area was seized from the Islamic State group

    US-backed forces cut off the last escape route for the Islamic State group from Raqa on Thursday, a monitor said, trapping the besieged jihadists inside their de facto Syrian capital.

    Fighters with the Syrian Democratic Forces captured two villages on the southern bank of the Euphrates River the jihadists had been passing through to withdraw from the city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    It was the latest setback for IS, which declared its "caliphate" straddling Syria and Iraq three years ago but has since lost most of the territory it once controlled.

    It came too as Iraqi forces announced the recapture of an iconic mosque in IS's last major Iraqi bastion Mosul, prompting Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to declare "the end" of the "fake" jihadist state.

    The SDF, an alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces backed by the US-led anti-IS coalition, broke into Raqa on June 6 after spending months chipping away at jihadist territory around the city.

    Its fighters have since captured two eastern and two western districts of the city and are pushing towards the city centre, where IS fighters are holding tens of thousands of civilians.

    The SDF had surrounded the jihadists from the north, east and west but they were still able to escape across the Euphrates, which forms the southern border of the city.

    Thursday's advance saw SDF fighters capture the villages of Kasrat Afnan and Kasab on the southern bank of the Euphrates, cutting off the route the jihadists were using to withdraw to territory IS controls in the Syrian desert and in Deir Ezzor province.

    "The SDF has been able to completely encircle Raqa," said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based Observatory, which monitors Syria's conflict through a network of sources on the ground.

    sdf syrian democratic forces fighters raqqa

    - 60% of territory lost -

    IS overran Raqa in mid-2014 as part of the offensive that saw it seize control of large parts of Syria and Iraq. 

    The city became infamous as the scene of some of the group's worst atrocities, including public beheadings, and is thought to have been a hub for planning attacks overseas.

    The United Nations estimates some 100,000 civilians remain in the city, with the jihadists accused of using them as human shields.

    Marking the third anniversary of IS's declaration of a state on June 29, 2014, a leading analysis firm said the jihadists had since lost more than 60 percent of their territory and 80 percent of their revenue.

    In January 2015, IS controlled about 90,800 square kilometres, but by June 2017 that number dropped to 36,200, said IHS Markit.

    The biggest fall was in the first six months of 2017, when IS lost around 24,000 square kilometres of territory.

    "The Islamic State's rise and fall has been characterised by rapid inflation, followed by steady decline," said Columb Strack, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit.

    Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) fighters gather at the eastern entrance to the town of Tel Abyad of Raqqa governorate June 15, 2015. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    "Three years after the 'caliphate' was declared, it is evident that the group's governance project has failed," Strack said.

    IHS Markit said IS's average monthly revenue had plummeted by 80 percent, from $81 million in the second quarter of 2015 to just $16 million in the second quarter of 2017.

    The White House envoy to the coalition, Brett McGurk, visited one of the recaptured areas on Thursday, meeting with local officials in the northern Syrian town of Tabqa.

    IS jihadists were ousted from Tabqa and an adjacent dam on May 10 during the SDF offensive around Raqa.

    The visit came a day after McGurk met with members of the Raqa Civil Council, the body expected to run the northern city after IS's expected fall there.

    SEE ALSO: Syrians fear new turmoil in Raqqa once ISIS is defeated

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    Syria Idlib gas attack Assad civil war victim

    THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — An investigation by the international chemical weapons watchdog has confirmed that sarin nerve gas was used in a deadly April 4 attack on a Syrian town.

    The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons confirmed the findings of the investigation in a statement Friday. The attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Syria's Idlib province left more than 90 people dead, including women and children.

    OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu has condemned the attack as an "atrocity" and says the "perpetrators of this horrific attack must be held accountable for their crimes."

    The investigation did not apportion blame. Its findings will be used by a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation team to assess who was responsible.

    SEE ALSO: The US just attacked Assad for the first time — here’s how Syria's six-year civil war has unfolded

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    Trump Orb

    In early June, several Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia, cut diplomatic ties with neighboring Qatar over its alleged funding of terrorist groups and intention of "destabilizing the region."

    The split has inflamed the region at a time when US officials thought the states involved had united in a common front against Iranian influence.

    While US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have scrambled to sooth the crisis and bring all sides back together, the split has been exacerbated by their boss, President Donald Trump, who has on two occasions condemned and mocked Qatar, a longtime US partner.

    Saudi Arabia and its partners broke off ties with Doha in early June, days after Trump left a summit attended by dozens of leaders from the region. Speaking after his return to the US, Trump said, "Nations came together and spoke to me about confronting Qatar over its behaviors" during his trip abroad.

    "I decided, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, our great generals and military people, the time had come to call on Qatar to end its funding. They have to end that funding and its extremist ideology," the president added. "The nation of Qatar has historically been a funder of terrorism at a very high level."

    TRUMP SAUDI arabia

    Trump's comments came hours after and contradicted a statement from Tillerson that called on the Saudi-led bloc to drop its blockade of Qatar — home to a massive US military base— and announced US support for a mediation effort led by Kuwait.

    Tillerson was not only "blind-sided by the Trump statement," but also "absolutely enraged that the White House and State Department weren’t on the same page," one of the secretary's close associates told analyst and author Mark Perry.

    The differing statements exposed the gulf between Tillerson's and Trump's positions, and, in Tillerson's eyes, confirmed that Trump was running a second foreign policy out of the White House, relying on the counsel of senior adviser Jared Kushner.

    Tillerson has lashed out at the White House over his department's chronic personnel shortage, though he has also cut staff.

    kushner netanyahu trump

    The isolation of Qatar and breakdown of the anti-Iran front likely also frustrated Mattis, who places Tehran among the US's most significant geopolitical rivals.

    Mattis has also worked to preserve ties to Doha by signing off on arms deals, even as Trump bashes Qatar. (The US also completed naval drills with Qatar in early June.)

    The crisis remained unresolved throughout June, with the Saudi-led bloc issuing 13 demands for Doha to comply with to lift the blockade, expanding the scope of the dispute beyond the initial emphasis on terrorism financing.

    Among them were the requirement to cut diplomatic ties with Iran and sever links to terrorist organizations — like the Muslim Brotherhood, which Tillerson has cautioned against classifying as a terrorist group — as well as shutting down news outlets funded by Qatar, like Al Jazeera, and ending the Turkish military presence in Qatar.

    Doha has shown some accommodation of the demands and has said it's ready to discuss "legitimate issues" with other Arab states. But Qatar also said some of the demands were impossible to meet because they're not true. The deadline for compliance is Sunday.

    As leaders from the region descend on Washington this week, angling for time with Tillerson, the crisis has shown no sign of receding, and, at a fundraiser on Wednesday, Trump lauded Saudi Arabia and again bashed Qatar.

    "Last month, I had a historic summit with 54 leaders of the Muslim world. This is something that was epic," Trump said, according to audio of the event obtained by The Intercept.

    trump saudi arabia

    "We were with the king, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, and as you know through Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and others, hundreds of millions of dollars on a monthly basis goes toward funding terrorist and terrorism and radical Islamic terrorism, and I said, 'It has to stop.,'" Trump told the audience, who paid $35,000 a person to attend. "And we said, 'You have to stop. You have to.' And the king was fantastic."

    "We’re having a dispute now with Qatar, sometimes referred to as Qatar," the president added, switching between pronunciations of the country's name. "We all say Qatar. It's Qatar, they prefer. I prefer that they don’t fund terrorists," he said, to laughter and applause.

    To some, Trump's early embrace of Saudi Arabia — coupled with his decidedly anti-Iran rhetoric— emboldened Riyadh, which is now testing the limits of Washington's allegiance by settling old scores in its neighborhood.

    Under King Salman, who took the throne in 2015, and his crown prince, Muhammad Bin Salman, Saudi Arabia has become more assertive in the region, invading Yemen and bashing Iran.

    The White House has called the Qatar crisis "a family issue" the countries involved "should work out for themselves." But the clash has set off a competition in the US capital, where diplomats and lobbyists are hustling to make their pitches.

    U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (R) walks with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani before their meeting at the State Department in Washington, U.S., June 27, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

    Tillerson this week has met with top Qatari officials and with the Kuwaiti foreign minister. The Saudi foreign minister, Adel Al Jubeir, has also been in close contact with Tillerson. Journalists, hustled from one embassy to another to hear each side's case, have been offered work writing essays in support of Qatar.

    "This is the capital of the world,"Al Jubeir said at Saudi Arabia's US embassy on Tuesday. "Washington is lovely in the spring," he added.

    Qatar — whose emir said in late May that "there is no wisdom in harboring hostility towards Iran"— has for the time being spurned demands from the Saudi bloc, drawing closer to Iran. Tehran has said the "siege of Qatar is not acceptable for us" and that it will stand by Doha "as a ... friendly nation."

    US officials — who are still facing a post-ISIS competition for influence in Syria (Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the US all support different sides in Syria) and further conflict in Iraq — have been left frustrated by a Saudi policy, seemingly encouraged by Trump, that appears to be counterproductive.

    “The Saudis and Emiratis have told us repeatedly that they want to weaken Iran, but they’ve actually empowered them,” a senior Pentagon consultant who works on the Middle East told Perry.

    Iran's President Hassan Rouhani attends the annual pro-Palestinian rally marking Al-Quds Day in Tehran, Iran, June 23, 2017. Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via REUTERS. ATTENTITON EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

    "This is bigger than the chemical weapons in Syria. It's bigger than the Mosul fight in Iraq,"said Ambassador James Jeffrey, the US's former envoy to Turkey and Iraq. "Because if the Qataris are threatened enough, they're going to turn to Russia and Iran."

    The crisis in the Persian Gulf remains unresolved, and Qatar may yet capitulate — in part or in whole — to Riyadh's demands, solidifying the latter's position in the region and deepening the Sunni-Shia conflict.

    But the potential also remains for Saudi Arabia's hardline to blow up in its face. Should Oman and Kuwait also defy Riyadh's power play, it could spell the end for the Gulf Cooperation Council and give Iran the chance to make new friends in its near abroad.

    "This isn’t just some kind of Gulfie dust-up, where we can go out and hold everyone’s hands,” the Pentagon consultant told Perry. "The Saudis have handed the Iranians a gift and we’re on the outside looking in."

    SEE ALSO: Rex Tillerson and James Mattis are cleaning up Jared Kushner's Middle East mess

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    An Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter walks with his weapon in northern Raqqa province, Syria February 6, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi SaidAs the Islamic State crumbles, American special operations forces and their Arab and Kurdish allies have been working quietly to establish a force of about 3,500 militiamen to help secure Raqqa, Syria, according to US military and State Department officials.

    In April, a 100-member Raqqa Civilian Council was formed in the city of Ain Issa just north of Raqqa, and US troops have been training, equipping, and paying a growing security force that will be given responsibility for keeping the peace once the Islamic State is defeated.

    The current plan, outlined for Foreign Policy by several government officials, calls for the security forces to go through a weeklong training program that includes human rights instruction, crowd control techniques, and guidelines in setting up checkpoints.

    The Americans insist that the Raqqa Internal Security Force, as it is known, will be manned by vetted local fighters that reflect the ethnic makeup of the the city and will be overseen by the civilian city council. But questions remain over long-term plans for the city of over 200,000 civilians, who are facing weeks of grinding street-by-street fighting, airstrikes, and suicide bombings before the Islamic State is driven out, leaving parts of Raqqa in ruins.  

    The plans in motion are based on confidence in US military circles over the eventual outcome of the fight for the city, the self-declared capital of the Islamic State. US-backed Syrian Arab and Kurd fighters have been punching holes in the city’s defenses over the past several weeks and have surrounded it on all sides. Most of the terrorist group’s leadership have long since fled, moving into rural areas along the Euphrates River Valley, where US airstrikes have taken a heavy toll on some of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s top lieutenants.

    A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter cries as medics treat his comrades injured by sniper fired by Islamic State militants in a field hospital in Raqqa, Syria June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

    About 250 men have already been trained by American commandos in northern Syria, some of whom are now acting as instructors for follow-on classes, US military officials said.

    The Syrian commanders must go through the same vetting requirements — having no human rights violations in their background — as the US-trained Syrian Arab element of the Syrian Democratic Forces, which are battling to take Raqqa, Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition in Baghdad, told FP.

    The question remains, however, whether these freshly trained forces can secure the city. Members of the security force are being given just seven days of training, after which they’re equipped identically to the Syrian Democratic Forces, meaning AK-47s, uniforms, pickups and other vehicles, and some medical supplies.

    "We’re trying to build a sustainable solution because the Coalition is not going to be in Raqqa forever," said a government official with knowledge of the program who asked to speak anonymously. "In Syria, as opposed to Iraq, we don’t have a central government with whom we can partner."

    The US military’s experience building local security forces has met with mixed success. In Afghanistan, a local police program showed early promise by providing a solution for security in remote areas that overstretched government troops couldn’t reach. While the program has grown to include about 30,000 Afghans operating in small groups throughout the country and has been effective in some places, it has been hounded by charges of theft, rape, harassment, and corruption.

    "You don’t want the new security forces to lack credibility more than the old occupiers," said a former State Department official with experience in post-conflict environments. "The locals are fearful, and going into a setting where you’re still doing clearing operations, interrogation and detention are tools for control that must be carefully watched."

    A woman, who fled with others from an Islamic State-controlled area, greets Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters near Raqqa city, Syria June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    One US government official with knowledge of the program said the plan is for the security force to at least "provide a permissive security environment" that would allow humanitarian aid to begin to flow into the city.

    As residents of the city begin to take responsibility for their governance, the official said, "the coalition will seek to support legitimate civilian security structures."

    What those might be remain a matter of debate. Already, USAID and the United Nations have shipped food, water, medicine, and power generators to areas around Raqqa to meet some immediate humanitarian needs, but it will eventually fall to the Raqqa Civilian Council to manage the city and return essential services.

    Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the coalition against the Islamic State, traveled to Ain Issa on Wednesday, where he met members of the Raqqa city council in waiting.

    He said the US mission is to ensure that any foreign fighters who came to Raqqa "will die here in Syria. … If they are in Raqqa, they are going to die in Raqqa."

    The council has tried to build some bonds, pardoning 83 low-ranking members of the Islamic State captured by the SDF — all locals from Raqqa — as a goodwill gesture to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

    The new security force and city council will have a tall order ahead of it. The council, which includes Arabs, Kurds, and other smaller ethnic groups, could be viewed with suspicion by Syrian Arabs.

    "Arabs seen as picked by and answering to Kurdish authorities may be perceived as unreliable at best, and agents of sorts at worst," said Faysal Itani, a senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East. "So the specific identity of the Arabs in question and their relationship with the [Kurdish] authority are key."

    A Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighter rests near destroyed airplane parts inside Tabqa military airport after taking control of it from Islamic State fighters, west of Raqqa city, Syria April 9, 2017. REUTERS/Rodi Said

    The population of Raqqa may also question the authority of the new security forces, who, like the council, have not lived in the city for some time.

    And there is no guarantee that whoever ends up governing the city won’t turn to Damascus for assistance and seek to cut deals with the government and Moscow for more protection, much like some Kurdish groups in northern Syria have done.

    Both Iran and Hezbollah, which are fighting on behalf of the Syrian regime, have an interest in waiting out the fight for Raqqa, Itani said, while "determining the exact bounds of US ambitions and strategy in Syria."

    Iran and Hezbollah "would not accept" a situation where the United States attempts to establish a permanent military presence in areas taken from the Islamic State, Itani said. They would turn to asymmetric warfare against US troops and their proxies in Syria," he said, "much as they did in Iraq."

    SEE ALSO: ISIS militants are faking illnesses to get out of fighting

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    Syria Syrian Lira Bashar Assad

    Damascus (AFP) - The Syrian Central Bank has released the war-ravaged country's largest currency note yet, featuring the face of President Bashar al-Assad for the first time. 

    The new 2,000 pound note went into circulation in several regions including the capital Damascus on Sunday, according to Central Bank governor Duraid Dergham. 

    "Given the worn nature of the bills currently in circulation, the Central Bank saw that it was the appropriate time to release the 2,000 Syrian pound note," Dergham said, quoted by Syrian state news agency SANA.

    The bill features a portrait of Assad on one side and the inside of Syria's parliament on the other. 

    The value of the Syrian pound has plummeted over the course of the country's war, depreciating by around 90 percent against the US dollar since the conflict erupted in March 2011. 

    The 2,000 pound note is currently worth approximately $4.

    The largest bill in circulation had been the 1,000 Syrian pound note, which featured Syria's former president and Bashar's late father, Hafez al-Assad. 

    Reactions to the bill have ranged from expressions of support to concerns that it could spark further inflation. 

    But Dergham sought to reassure the public. 

    "There is no need to panic over this matter," he told reporters gathered in Damascus. 

    Join the conversation about this story »


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    marine arty

    US Marine artillerymen have been in the fight against ISIS since March 2016— and now there's a new video of their latest exploits in Syria.

    In a short video made by Marine Sgt. Matthew Callahan, troops can be seen firing their M777-A2 Howitzers during May and June in support of local coalition partners. This latest video from Callahan follows up on a collection of beautiful portraits of troops overseas that he took back in June.

    Filmed in Syria at an "undisclosed location," the Marines can be seen loading and firing artillery, which they have been doing around-the-clock as the Syrian Democratic Forces move further into Raqqa, the ISIS capital.

    Check it out:

    SEE ALSO: A US Marine photographer shot these beautiful portraits of troops overseas

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    kurds syria ypg

    The head of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia said on Wednesday that Turkish military deployments near Kurdish-held areas of northwestern Syria amounted to a "declaration of war" which could trigger clashes within days.

    Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus retorted that his country was not declaring war but that its forces would respond to any hostile move by the YPG, which he described as a small-scale army formed by the United States.

    The mounting tensions between two U.S. allies in northwestern Syria risk opening yet another front in the multi-sided conflict, in which outside powers are playing ever greater roles.

    They could also distract the YPG from the U.S.-backed campaign to capture Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa, some 200 km (125 miles) away. The YPG is spearheading that campaign.

    Asked by Reuters whether he expected a conflict with Turkey in northern Syria, where the two sides have exchanged artillery fire in recent days, YPG Commander Sipan Hemo accused Turkey of preparing for a major military campaign in the Aleppo and Afrin area.

    "These (Turkish) preparations have reached level of a declaration of war and could lead to the outbreak of actual clashes in the coming days," he said in emailed comments. "We will not stand idly by against this potential aggression."

    Turkey's policy in northern Syria has been focused on containing the growing sway of Kurdish groups that have established autonomous regions since Syria's war began in 2011.

    Ankara says the YPG represents a security threat, seeing it as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has been fighting an insurgency against the Turkish state for decades.

    Turkish forces deployed in northern Syria last year in support of Ankara-backed Free Syrian Army rebel groups in an operation that forced Islamic State away from the border and at the same time drove a wedge between YPG-held areas.

    turkey syria

    In recent weeks, Turkey has sent reinforcements into the area north of Aleppo, according to Turkey-backed rebel groups who have established control over a section of the Turkish-Syrian frontier with Ankara's support.

    "This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats," Kurtulmus told Reuters in an interview. "Their (YPG) primary goal is a threat to Turkey, and if Turkey sees a YPG movement in northern Syria that is a threat to it, it will retaliate in kind."

    Hemo was last week cited as saying the YPG had a plan to capture that area between the towns of Azaz and Jarablus. Asked about that remark, he described the Turkish intervention as "occupation" of Syrian land, and said the YPG had never "threatened Turkey or its security".

    LONG-TERM PLANS

    Turkey, a NATO member, has been incensed by the U.S. decision to ally with the YPG. Washington took the decision to arm the group before the final assault on Raqqa began in June.

    The YPG is fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which includes Arab fighters.

    In separate comments to the Saudi-owned Asharq al-Awsat newspaper published on Wednesday, Hemo said the United States had established seven military bases in areas of northern Syria controlled by the YPG or SDF, including a major airbase near Kobani, a town at the border with Turkey.

    Citing operational security, the coalition said it did not confirm or deny information about "specific capabilities, force numbers, locations or movement of forces in Iraq and Syria".

    syrian kurds ypg

    Hemo indicated the YPG would keep fighting Islamic State even after its defeat in Raqqa, saying it was committed with "the international coalition to cleansing Syria of terrorism and establishing a political system capable of achieving real democratic transformation".

    Turkish defense ministry sources said last month the United States had pledged that weapons provided to the YPG would be taken back once Islamic State was defeated. Turkey says that is not credible.

    "There has never been an incident where a group in the Middle East has been armed, and they returned the weapons," Kurtulmus said. The United States "have formed more than a terrorist organization there, they formed a small-scale army."

    He also warned the YPG not to try to drive out Arab or Turkmen residents from the town of Tel Rifaat, which is close to Afrin and controlled by YPG and Arab allies in the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

    U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has left open the possibility of longer-term assistance to the YPG, saying the U.S. may need to supply them with weapons and equipment even after the capture of Raqqa.

    Hemo said U.S. officials had denied any intention to take away the YPG's weapons and that the YPG would be needing more support due to its longer-term plans to tackle the remnants of Islamic State.

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    US Marines Syria

    Three years into the coalition fight against Islamic State militants, the battlefield remains fairly austere, without the major forward bases or large unit presence common to previous wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Into this environment, the Marine Corps has quietly deployed several 3D printers, hoping to highlight the value of the emerging technology to speed up supply chains and return broken gear to the fight faster.

    “We were the first service to actually deploy 3D printers to a combat zone with actual conventional forces,” Marine Lt. Col. Howard Marotto, the service’s lead for additive manufacturing and 3D printing development and implementation, told Military.com in a June interview.

    “There have been printers deployed in the past in the special forces community, but they were always deployed with engineers. We’ve actually deployed these printers with our Marines, and given them the training [to use them] while deployed.”

    Marine Corps officials are remaining coy about exactly where the printers are located and how many there are. But Marotto confirmed that several of the desktop-sized machines are actually in a combat zone belonging to the Marine Corps crisis response task force assigned to the Middle East, while more are within the region, but behind the front lines.

    While all the military services are pursuing the possibilities inherent in 3D printing with interest, the Marine Corps has perhaps shown the most eagerness to get the technology into the hands of rank-and-file Marines in active units. A September 2016 message to the force gave individual unit commands broad authorization to use 3D printing to create repair parts for existing equipment.

    3D Printer

    To date, Marotto said, there are 40 3-D printers spread across the fleet. But demand continues to grow, he said, and that number could swell to 60 or 70 by this fall.

    In the combat zone, the printers are used to quickly reproduce essential parts that might otherwise have to be shipped from a stateside location or a distant Defense Logistics Agency hub, said Lt. Gen. Michael Dana, deputy commandant for Installations and Logistics.

    “There are radios out there that have plastic components. We’ve been able to print plastic components for those radios, to make them operable when they were inoperable,” Dana told Military.com. “This way it has much promise to provide on-demand parts literally within hours, worst case days, whereas if you’re dealing with a traditional, back in the States to point of need, you’re talking multiple days, weeks and sometimes even longer. So that’s the attraction of this capability.”

    marines fire base bell iraq

    In addition to radios, Marines have printed small items ranging from specialized wrenches needed to service 81mm mortar systems to splints and other medical apparatus, Marotto said. And the possibilities don’t end there.

    In June, the publication Defense Systems reported that the Marine Corps is preparing to deploy a first-of-its kind 3D printed quadcopter-style drone, known as “The Nibbler,” into combat.

    “Marines have always had great ideas; they have always been innovative. They haven’t always had the capability to be able to manufacture that or to make it right there, at least a prototype,” Marotto said. “And now 3D printing is opening up those avenues for Marines to capitalize on their innovative ideas.”

    Meanwhile, Marine officials continue to experiment with other ways to use additive manufacturing to make deployed troops less reliant on supply depots thousands of miles away.

    “We believe that additive manufacturing, 3D printing, has much promise to flatten the supply chain,” Dana said. “Because the way our supply chain is currently configured is factory to foxhole. But the factory is all the way back, most times, in the United States.”

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    Iraq Iraqi Soldier Mosul

    The U.S.-led coalition in Iraq has come up with a plan to keep the peace in the war-torn country after the military defeat of ISIS: A "police presence in a box" manned by Iraqi police officers.

    The so-called program calls for 100 shipping containers with laptops, furniture, and Land Cruiser vehicles will be set up as makeshift, mobile police stations in Mosul and across five liberated provinces, Canadian Brig. Gen. D.J. Anderson, who is director of partner force development for coalition.

    Another 100 "border guard in a box" containers will also go along crossing to Syria.

    The $50 million program, paid for by the United States as part of its train and equip program, is designed to give Iraqis the sense of a police and security presence in areas damaged by fighting ISIS, Anderson said. The first two of the shipping containers were delivered this week to Iraqi police training centers.

    "The contents can be unpacked and set up quickly to allow the police to immediately begin serving their citizens," he said.

    The containers include a tent with a large working space, furniture, lighting, water tanks, laptop computers, phones, GPS equipment, border security equipment, and two Land Cruiser vehicles, according to Anderson.

    The police boxes will be rolled out this summer and the 100 border guard boxes will come later.

    With ISIS near defeat and cornered in a tiny section of Mosul, the coalition is hashing out plans to shift from military operations with Iraqi forces to what Anderson called "true-blue policing" across the liberated areas of the country.

     

    SEE ALSO: ISIS militants are faking illnesses to get out of fighting

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    Donald Trump

    • President Donald Trump has his first high-stakes meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday. 
    • The meeting comes amid crumbling relations between the two countries.
    • Experts stressed Trump must bring up Russia's meddling in the US election.

    President Donald Trump is set to meet Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany — a full, bilateral sit-down with high stakes.

    The meeting will take place amid crumbling US-Russia relations, and as the president weathers multiple congressional and FBI investigations into Russia's interference in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign played a possible role in it.

    White House aides are aware of the high-stakes nature of the meeting, which comes after former presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama were unable to cultivate stronger ties with Russia. 

    Issues on the table for discussion include Russia's military aggression in Ukraine, Russia's US election meddling, continued nuclear weapons threats from North Korea, the ongoing fight against the Islamic State and extremism, and the brutal Syrian civil war. 

    It is unclear which topics will be discussed. Trump's homeland security adviser, Thomas Bossert, told ABC's "This Week" on Sunday that an agenda had not been set, and his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told reporters that "there's no specific agenda."

    "It's really going to be whatever the president wants to talk about," McMaster said, in a statement that has drawn alarm from some national-security experts.

    'Putin will eat President Trump's lunch'

    Not having a set agenda for any meeting with foreign interlocutors can place American interests in jeopardy from the outset, said Glenn Carle, a CIA veteran and former spy.

    "Whoever sets the agenda shapes the discussions," and if the US doesn't go in with a prepared set of talking points, "it means from the get-go that the US is on the defensive, responding, but not driving," Carle said. He said that without an agenda, the US government and Russia hawks in the White House, like adviser Fiona Hill, cannot prepare for and advance US interests. 

    Vladimir Putin

     

    Ned Price, the senior director of the National Security Council under Obama and a former CIA analyst, was more blunt. If the White House goes into the meeting without a set agenda, "Putin will eat President Trump's lunch," Price said.

    "There's no better way to ensure we don't get what we want out of a bilateral meeting — especially one as delicate as with Putin — than by not going in with a fully-cooked and fire-roasted plan," he said. 

    When meeting with Trump, Putin will bring up common enemies like the American "deep state" and "fake news," former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul wrote in The Washington Post. "Putin wants the readout of this meeting to be 'we had a very good meeting.' Your objective is different."

    "Your goal is not a friendly chat — diplomacy is not a popularity contest — but a clear statement of US national security and economic objectives and an exploration of what issues the United States and Russia could pursue together," McFaul wrote. "Don't expect any breakthroughs in this first meeting. Your task is to demonstrate to Putin that you are a tough negotiator committed to pursuing American interests, and one that is not willing to offer concessions simply to win Putin's praise."

    'You can bet Putin has an agenda up his sleeve'

    Though Putin had a rocky relationship with Trump's predecessor, Trump has so far appeared to be open to warmer US-Russia relations, and his administration has frequently taken steps that seemed to echo Putin's criticisms of the US and its objectives. 

    During a February interview with former Fox News host Bill O'Reilly, for instance, O'Reilly asked Trump whether he respected Putin. 

    bill o'reilly donald trump

    "I do respect him. I respect a lot of people, but that doesn't mean I'm going to get along with him," Trump replied. "He's a leader of his country. I say it's better to get along with Russia than not."

    O'Reilly followed up and said, "Putin's a killer." 

    Trump replied: "You got a lot of killers. What, you think our country's so innocent?"

    Trump has also been slow to acknowledge Russia's election meddling, despite the fact that the US intelligence community concluded with high confidence that Russia interfered in 2016 in an effort to help Trump and advance Russian interests. 

    On the eve of his first meeting with Putin, Trump questioned the intelligence community's findings and argued, during a press conference abroad, that Russia might not have been the only country that could have intervened.

    "Nobody really knows for sure," Trump said. 

    The Kremlin seized on Trump's characterization following his speech. Spokesman Dmitry Petrov told Bloomberg News that Trump had highlighted "equally the possibility that it could have been other countries."

    "Please note the nuances," he said. 

    The Trump administration is also weighing whether to return two seized diplomatic compounds in Maryland and New York to Russia, a key demand from Moscow. The facilities were shuttered as part of Obama's response to Russia's election interference, and it's likely Putin will bring up the compounds as well as a host of other issues that are critical to Russia's survival on the world stage. 

    "You can bet Putin has an agenda up his sleeve," said Robert Deitz, a former top lawyer at the National Security Agency and the CIA. Russia "is in effect a second-rate power. Everything Putin has obtained — and it is a remarkable list — has been through wiles and chutzpah. This requires great planning" and Putin will likely have done that in preparation for the bilateral meeting, Deitz added. 

    Vladimir Putin

    On the other hand, Trump has a known aversion to dense briefings and lengthy preparations. He frequently relies on in-person briefings to bring him up to speed, and he prefers shorter sentences and "killer graphics" as opposed to heavier notes.

    In keeping with that, intelligence officials condensed the main points Trump could bring up with Putin into "tweet-length sentences," The Los Angeles Times reported

    But Trump may need more than that when he meets the Russian strongman. Former Obama aides told The Post that Putin often begins meetings by running through a list of grievances he has against the US. Aides said that while they tried to direct less substantive complaints through lower-level channels so they could keep the focus on bigger problems like Ukraine and Syria, "those topics got him even more animated."

    A focus on Ukraine, Syria, and Russian election meddling 

    To drive the conversation, experts said the US must focus on topics vital to its own interests, which include addressing the crises in Ukraine and Syria, and especially Russia's election hack.

    Trump should emphasize that Russia's interference in the US election was a casus belli, Carle said — an action that justifies a war. He said Trump should outline steps the US will take if Russia continues its aggression, including "going to the Security Council, freezing all assets of Russian banks and individuals, expelling all Russian diplomats," and possibly deploying US forces to the Baltics.

    "Russia's actions were that significant," he said. 

    Deitz said it would be "truly awful" if the issue of Russia's election interference was not brought up.

    "Trump must raise this: interference in [the US election] ... may be an act of war," Deitz said. 

    Price said Trump needs to clearly signal to Russia that US sanctions related to Russia's actions in Ukraine will not be lifted until Moscow lives up to its obligations outlined in the 2014 Minsk Protocol. The agreement, which called for Russia to cease its military aggression in Ukraine, was put in place after Russia annexed the territory of Crimea in March 2014.  

    U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. June 20, 2017.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

    The agreement has been violated from both sides since. In recent years, Ukraine has also turned into a testing ground for acts of cyberwar, many of which are believed to have come from Russia. Most recently, Russia is thought to have been behind a colossal cyberattack that crippled countries and corporations across the globe — and Ukraine was by far the hardest hit. 

    The US must stress that the Baltics and Ukraine are sovereign states, Carle said, and added that "any further actions taken to destabilize them can be considered an escalation of tensions," which NATO could respond to. 

    The experts argued the ongoing crisis in Syria should also be addressed, with the US taking a strong stance against continued aggression by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and chemical weapons attacks against civilians. The US and Russia support opposing sides in the conflict, which has contributed to crumbling relations between the two countries since the war erupted in 2011.

    Russia is one of Assad's most stalwart international allies. It has frequently intervened to block UN resolutions critical of Syria and also supplied military assistance to Assad's forces. In 2015, Russia began carrying out air strikes against Syrian rebels, though it said it was targeting terrorists. The US, on the other hand, supports Syria's main opposition group, the National Coalition, and provides military assistance to rebels and Syrian Kurds fighting ISIS and Assad's regime. 

    Putin Assad

    Tensions between the US and Russia in Syria escalated after scores of civilians were killed in April following a chemical weapons attack believed to have been carried out by Assad and backed by Russia. 

    Though the US and Russia have not been able to come to a consensus on how to address the crisis in Syria, both have conceded that only a political solution and a negotiated settlement will end the war. 

    Trump should certainly "bring up potential areas of broader cooperation — including in Syria — but he mustn't focus on that at the exclusion of our significant areas of disagreement," Price said. 

    He added that Trump also needs to clearly signal to Putin that the US government is unequivocally committed to Article 5 of NATO and that "any aggression — in whatever form — against a NATO ally will not be tolerated." Trump has frequently criticized the coalition in the past, but he reaffirmed the US's commitment to NATO and Article 5 during his speech in Poland on Thursday.

    Most importantly, experts say, Trump must be careful not to concede anything to Putin.   

    Trump "should present our goals and listen to the Russians. He should agree to pursue our goals if that's possible," Carle said. Trump should also recognize that "personal relationships are irrelevant. Putin will charm and make nice," but that bears no importance, he added. "Only national interests matter here. The Russians are astute, prepared, and clear in their objectives," and the US must come similarly prepared. 

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    Donald Trump Vladimir Putin

    US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for the first time Friday at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, beginning a new chapter in the relationship between the world's two largest military and nuclear powers.

    With Russian foreign policy in direct opposition to US interests abroad, and a grinding investigation into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with Russian hackers in the 2016 presidential election, pundits look to the meeting as a high-stakes first step in a relationship that could be defining for both men.

    But even before Putin came to power in 2000, all US presidents have made a fundamental mistake in dealing with Russian leaders, said Anna Borshchevskaya, an expert on Russia’s foreign policy at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

    "Every American president, Democrat and Republican alike, comes in thinking that the problem lay with his predecessor, and he will be the one to fix the US-Russian relationship. But it never works out because the problem is not with the American side," Borshchevskaya said. "It’s important to recognize that Putin doesn’t want to build democracy in Russia, and he doesn’t want Russia to move closer to the West — to the contrary, he sees Russia as standing in opposition to Western values."

    Former President Barack Obama, the US frequently rebuked Russia for its incursions into Ukraine and Syria, and then for its meddling in the 2016 election. But while Obama did declare the US's commitment to Western values, his words did not stop Russia from pursuing a very aggressive foreign policy and annexing the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine.

    Far from acknowledging Obama's rebukes or starting a dialogue, Putin still hasn't admitted that Russia has had a role in backing the Ukrainian insurgency or in trying to sway the 2016 election.

    Obama Putin

    Borshchevskaya said that no matter what the US offers, Russia does not want to be courted. For that reason, a US leader should "communicate to Putin that the US will stand by its values and protect its interests" with words that are backed up by action.

    Rather than looking for Putin to cooperate with the US or chastise him for his foreign policy, Borshchevskaya said Trump must simply and credibly assert the US's goals and his resolve in pursuing them. 

    "A productive conversation would be one where President Trump clearly communicates to Putin that the US won’t be quick to offer concessions, but to the contrary, that Trump is going to be a tough negotiator, one who Putin feels is committed to protecting American interests and values, and someone who he will back his talk with action, not just as a one-off, but on a consistent basis," Borshchevskaya said.

    SEE ALSO: 'Putin will eat President Trump's lunch': Experts weigh in on how Trump should approach Putin

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    FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damaged buildings in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa, Syria June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir/File photo

    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - At least 600 civilians have been killed in strikes in Iraq and Syria by the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State since the campaign began in 2014, according to a report released by the coalition on Friday.

    The estimate in the monthly report, which said coalition strikes had unintentionally killed at least 603 civilians between August 2014 and May 2017, was far lower than figures provided by monitoring groups.

    The monitoring group Airwars says a total of at least 4,354 civilians have been killed by coalition air strikes.

    The latest coalition report included an incident on April 17 near the Syrian town of Abu Kamal, in which it said 25 civilians were killed and 40 were wounded during a strike against an Islamic State headquarters that caused a secondary explosion in the adjacent building.

    Since the start of the campaign against Islamic State militants, the coalition has carried out nearly 22,000 strikes and has received 727 reports of potential civilian casualties, the report said.

    Displaced Iraqi civilians who fled from clashes are seen in the Old City of Mosul, Iraq July 4, 2017.  Picture taken July 4, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer

    The coalition, battling to defeat Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, says it goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

    Ahead of a final assault on Raqqa city in Syria, the U.N. human rights office raised concerns about increasing reports of civilian deaths in the area. In a May report, it said there had already been "massive civilian casualties."

    In Mosul, the Iraqi military has forecast final victory this week in what used to be the de facto capital in Iraq of Islamic State's self-declared caliphate, after an eight-month, U.S.-backed offensive to wrest back the city. Mosul's pre-war population was 2 million.

    (Reporting by Idrees Ali; editing by Frances Kerry)

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    Putin Trump

    HAMBURG, Germany (AP) — The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, three U.S. officials said Friday as President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    The deal marks a new level of involvement for the U.S. in trying to resolve Syria's civil war. Although details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren't immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren't authorized to discuss the cease-fire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

    Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said. The two U.S. allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence from Syria's civil war spilling over the border.

    The deal is separate from "de-escalation zones" that were to be created under a deal brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran earlier this year. The U.S. was not a part of that deal. Follow-up talks this week in Kazakhstan to finalize a cease-fire in those zones failed to reach agreement.

    The U.S. and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria's war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad. Both the U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.

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    donald trump vladimir putinUS Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit took so long that First Lady Melania Trump was sent into the meeting "to see if she could get us out of there."

    "It is a very complicated relationship today because there are so many issues on the table," Tillerson said, according to a White House statement. "And one of the reasons it took a long time, I think, is because ... there was so much to talk about."

    "And I think there was just such a level of engagement and exchange, and neither one of them wanted to stop," Tillerson continued. "Several times I had to remind the President, and people were sticking their heads in the door."

    Although Melania was sent to break up the meeting, her efforts appeared to be ineffective.

    "Well, we went another hour after she came in to see us," Tillerson. "So clearly she failed."

    The meeting, held in Hamburg, Germany, was the first bilateral meeting between the two presidents. Trump reportedly "pressed" Putin on a variety of subjects, including the ongoing civil war in Syria and Russia's meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. They also discussed a cease-fire agreement in Syria and efforts to establish ties between the two country's cybersecurity assets. 

    "It was an extraordinarily important meeting," Tillerson said. "I mean, there's just — there's so much for us to talk about. And it was a good start."

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    Syria

    The United States, Russia and Jordan reached a ceasefire and "de-escalation agreement" for southwestern Syria on Friday, as the US government under President Donald Trump made its first attempt at peacemaking in the country's six-year-old civil war.

    The ceasefire, due to start at noon Damascus time (0900 GMT) on Sunday, was announced after a meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit of major economies in the German city of Hamburg.

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the area covered by the ceasefire affects Jordan’s security and is a "very complicated part of the Syrian battlefield."

    Russia and Iran are the main international backers of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad while Washington supports some of the rebel groups fighting to topple him.

    "I think this is our first indication of the US and Russia being able to work together in Syria, and as a result of that we had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas," Tillerson said.

    Previous similar ceasefires have failed to hold for long and it was not clear how much the actual combatants -- Assad's government and the main Syrian rebel forces in the southwest -- are committed to this latest effort.

    Former US President Barack Obama struggled to find a strategy to end Syria's civil war, which killed nearly half a million people, turned cities into ruins and forced millions to flee abroad.

    Syria has also tripped up Trump, who promised better relations with Moscow but angered Russia in April by ordering missile strikes against a Syrian air base to punish Assad after a chemical weapons attack.

    The Syria deal appeared to give Trump a diplomatic achievement at his first meeting with Putin where they also discussed the thorny issues of Moscow's alleged interference in the US 2016 presidential election and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

    Bashar Al-Assad Dictator

    Goals in Syria

    Backed by Russian air power, Assad has regained ground in the last year or so lost to the mostly Sunni Muslim rebels.

    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the accord includes "securing humanitarian access and setting up contacts between the opposition in the region and a monitoring center that is being established in Jordan's capital."

    The ceasefire should pave the way toward a more robust pacification effort, said a senior State Department official involved in the talks. "It is a first step in what we envision to be a more complex and robust ceasefire arrangement and de-escalation arrangement in southwest Syria, certainly more complex than ones we have tried in the past."

    The official said further discussions would be needed to decide crucial aspects of the ceasefire, however, including monitoring its enforcement.

    Tillerson said that by and large the objectives of the United States and Russia in Syria "are exactly the same."

    But Washington and Moscow have long been at odds over Syria.

    The United States has often called for the removal of Assad, who it blames for shootings of protesters at the start of the conflict and, more recently, chemical weapons attacks on civilians.

    Russia and Iran strongly back the Syrian leader, who gives both countries a strategic foothold in the Mediterranean Sea.

    Despite the ceasefire deal, Tillerson said the United States still sees "no long-term role for the Assad family or the Assad regime. And we have made this clear to everyone. We certainly made it clear in our discussions with Russia."

    Rex Tillerson

    Robert Ford, who resigned in 2014 as US ambassador to Syria over policy disagreements, said the Trump administration, like that of Obama, has "no national objective for the future of Syria nor any strategy for how to secure an objective were one identified."

    By contrast, Russia's overall aim is clearer, said Ford, now a fellow at the Middle East Institute think tank in Washington.

    "The Russian objective is to insulate Damascus and the Syrian national government from outside pressure trying to pressure it into major concessions," he said.

    A group of Syrian rebels that took part in the latest peace talks in Kazakhstan this month said in a statement it had "great concern over the secret meetings between Russia and Jordan and America to conclude an individual deal for southern Syria in isolation from the north," which it described as an unprecedented event that "divides Syria and the opposition."

    The Syrian government and the Southern Front, the main grouping of Western-backed rebel groups in southwest Syria, did not immediately react to the ceasefire deal.

    It was not immediately clear exactly which areas of southwestern Syria would be covered by the ceasefire but earlier talks between the United States and Russia about a "de-escalation zone" covered Deraa province, on the border with Jordan, and Quneitra, which borders the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

    British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon welcomed any ceasefire in Syria but wanted to see results on the ground.

    "The recent history of the Syrian civil war is littered with ceasefires and it would be nice ... one day to have a ceasefire," Fallon said at an event in Washington.

    (Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Idrees Ali and Tim Ahmann and Doina Chiacu in Washington and Ellen Francis in Beirut; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and James Dalgleish)

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    Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin

    HAMBURG — Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have agreed to a ceasefire in southwest Syria starting from midday on Sunday, following their first meeting together at the G20 summit on Friday.

    "Today in Amman Russian, American and Jordanian experts... agreed on a memorandum of understanding to create a de-escalation zone" in the regions of Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced.

    "There will be a ceasefire in this zone from midday Damascus time on July 9."

    Lavrov was speaking at the G20 summit in Hamburg where he sat in on talks between US President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin --  their first face-to-face meeting.

    The agreement includes areas that have seen Israel retaliate for stray fire into the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights from recent clashes between Syrian regime forces and rebel fighters. 

    Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been engaged in talks this year with Turkey and Iran over four so-called de-escalation zones in the war-torn country. 

    Negotiations in Astana this week failed to reach an agreement on the policing and precise borders of the zones, however. 

    Lavrov said the ceasefire set to begin Sunday would be supervised by Russian military police "in coordination with the Jordanians and Americans".

    US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed the agreement.

    Tillerson said it showed the United States and Russia were able to work together in Syria and that they would continue to do so.

    "We had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence, once we defeat ISIS," he said using an acronym for the Islamic State group.

    Tillerson said they would also "work together towards a political process that will secure the future of the Syrian people".

    In Washington, a senior State Department official briefed reporters about the ceasefire, saying the impulse for the move came from Washington and from Moscow.

    "If there's going to be a resolution of the conflict in Syria, we both need to somehow be involved in it," the official said. 

    "The Russians are heavily invested in the conflict.  We have an interest in finding an end to it -– in ending the misery, in ending the violence, in ending the refugee flows and the radicalization that emerges from it." 

    Britain sceptical of ceasefire

    The United States has led a multi-national coalition since 2014 battling IS jihadists in Syria and neighbouring Iraq.

    Jordan said it was party to what it called a "tripartite agreement" together with Russia and the United States.

    "A ceasefire will take place along a line of contact agreed upon between the Syrian government forces and associated troops on one side and rebels on the other," government spokesman Mohammed Momani said.

    "The three nations voiced their commitment to working on a political solution" based on UN-backed talks in Geneva and UN Security Council Resolution 2254, he said, quoted by the official Petra news agency.

    Asked about the ceasefire, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon was sceptical it would hold given the string of failures in the past.

    "We welcome any ceasefire, but let's see it, let's see the results on where these safety zones are proposed," Fallon told a Washington think-tank.

    "Let's not have the civilian population misled.

    "If they can be properly enforced then they are thoroughly welcome, and can then get in the United Nations humanitarian aid that was promised," said Fallon.

    The Syrian army had announced on Monday a unilateral ceasefire to halt fighting in Daraa, Quneitra and Sweida.

    These areas form one of the four de-escalation zones agreed under peace talks in Kazakhstan brokered by rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran.

    The Syrian army's unilateral ceasefire was to have expired at midnight on Thursday.

    Syria's conflict evolved from a bloody crackdown on protests in 2011 to a devastating war that has drawn in world powers, including Russia and the US-led international coalition.

    More than 320,000 people are estimated to have been killed and millions have been displaced.

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    FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damaged buildings in a rebel-held part of the southern city of Deraa, Syria June 22, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir/File photo

    BEIRUT (AP) — An open-ended cease-fire in southern Syria brokered by the United States and Russia has come into effect.

    The cease-fire, announced after a meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Hamburg last week, is the first initiative by the Trump administration in collaboration with Russia to bring some stability to war-torn Syria.

    No cease-fire has lasted long in the six-year-old Syrian war.

    U.S.-backed rebels, Syrian government forces, and Islamic State militants are all fighting for control of southern Syria.

    The latest truce, which began at noon (0900 GMT) Saturday, is intended to allay concerns of neighboring Israel and Jordan about Iranian-backed and government-allied forces at their borders. The truce does not include the IS group.

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