Smoke billows from a rebel-held area of Daraa, in southern Syria, following reported shelling by Syrian pro-government forces on February 17, 2017. / AFP / MOHAMAD ABAZEED
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The United Nations is no longer using the phrase "political transition" to describe the goals of next week's Syria peace talks, in a potentially major concession to negotiators representing President Bashar Assad.Yara Sharif, spokeswoman for U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, initially told a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva Friday that the talks, due to start on Feb. 23, would address the political transition.However, in Germany, U.S. allies won assurances Friday from new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that Washington backed a U.N.-brokered political solution to the Syria conflict, the latest sign the Trump administration will keep to existing policy.Turkish troops and allied opposition fighters have been on the offensive in Al-Bab for weeks trying to take it from Daesh, a grueling battle that has killed hundreds of people so far.The battle has been difficult for Turkish troops who have lost some 65 soldiers since they entered Syria in August, most of them in Al-Bab, which has been under attack since mid-November.In northern Syria, the Observatory and a member of a militant faction said members of an extremist group in northwestern Syria that fought fierce battles against Al-Qaeda will be evacuated to areas controlled by Daesh.
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