The Latest: Syrian Kurds call for buffer with Turkish forces

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest developments on the ground in Syria and at the Geneva peace talks. (all times local):

2:30 p.m.

U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish troops say Russia has brokered an agreement between them and Turkish-backed opposition fighters. The deal seeks to avoid clashes between the two mutually hostile rival, both fighting the Islamic State group in northern Syria.

The Manbij Military Council, part of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, says that under the deal, they will withdraw from a front line as rival Turkish-backed forces near the Euphrates River.

This will allow Syrian government forces to create a buffer between them.

However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara there was no such agreement between Russia and the Syrian Kurds.

Kurdish-led forces captured the northern town of Manbij from IS last August, prompting Turkey to deploy troops into northern Syria.

Turkey considers the Kurdish forces a terrorist organization, linked to its home-grown Kurdish insurgency. Turkish troops are stationed in the Syrian town of al-Bab, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Manbij.


2:15 p.m.

Syrian state media say that military forces have entered Palmyra in the quest to again take the town from the Islamic State group.

Palmyra, home to some of the world's most prized Roman ruins, was seized again by IS in December.

Syria's state news agency SANA says that government troops entered the town's archaeological site on Thursday. It said IS militants were fleeing from the area.

IS defenses began crumbling on Sunday, with the government reaching the town's outskirts on Tuesday.

Activist-run Palmyra News Network says the advancing forces have pounded the town with artillery and airstrikes.

This is the government's second campaign to retake Palmyra. It seized the town from Islamic State militants last March only to lose it again 10 months later.


1:15 p.m.

Turkey's foreign minister says with the completion of an operation to retake the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab, Turkish troops will head to Syrian town of Manbij next, to oust it of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces that Ankara views as terrorists and a threat to Turkey.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday said Turkey would not shy away from attacking the Kurdish group that dominates the Syria Democratic Forces and which captured Manbij last year after weeks of deadly fighting with the Islamic State group. He renewed calls for the new U.S. administration not to support the Kurdish forces.

Cavusoglu added that an operation to take Manbij had not started yet, but acknowledged that skirmishes between Turkish-backed forces and the Kurdish fighters may have occurred.


10:50 a.m.

The United Nations envoy to Syria is working round the clock in a bid to secure a modest victory in the fourth round of talks held in Geneva.

Staffan de Mistura is due for another round of meetings Thursday marking a week of bilateral talks with the government delegation and opposition groups.

A top Syrian opposition negotiator told journalists overnight Wednesday the "envoy is really keen to start a political process on the basis of a clear agenda."

Nasr al-Hariri said the talks would likely culminate in a closing ceremony Friday and the parties may be back in Geneva for further discussions in a few weeks.

Setting the agenda and strategy to guide discussions has proven difficult as the main conflicting parties dig in their heels over form and semantics.