US Secretary of Defense James Mattis said on Monday he backs diplomatic efforts to resume the Geneva talks as ISIS neared its defeat in east Syria.
“Secretary (Rex) Tillerson engaged strongly with (UN envoy) Staffan de Mistura about how do we move what has been going on in Astana, how do we move that over to Geneva where we can actually get the UN engaged on the way forward,” he told reporters on a plane en route to Finland to meet with leaders from the Northern Group, Reuters reported on Monday.
The US Defense Secretary also said that with ISIS’s territory rapidly shrinking, the focus was on defeating it in the final few areas.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Syrian civilians returned on Monday to one of Raqqa’s neighborhood after the removal of explosives left behind by ISIS, to become the first wave of returnees to the city, said the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The SDF said in a statement that they “informed civilians from al-Meshleb that they could return to their homes after mine-removal teams had finished clearing the entire neighborhood of explosives left indiscriminately in civilian homes by ISIS.”
Senior council member Omar Alloush told AFP on Monday: “Yes, residents of Al-Meshleb returned to their homes - but the whole city hasn’t been cleared of mines yet.”
Meanwhile, the deputy head of the council’s reconstruction committee, Nazmi Mohammad, said on Monday that bulldozers would be sent to Raqqa to help clear rubble and open roads in al-Meshleb.
Also on Monday, an official from the Deir al-Zour civilian council said that Syrian regime forces have been broadcasting warnings via loudspeakers placed on Syrian Red Crescent vehicles to all those present in the northwestern part of the city by calling on them to “surrender in the coming hours or Al-Hawija will be destroyed on their heads.”