Over 500 militants killed as infighting spreads in Syria
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Over 500 militants killed as infighting spreads in Syria

The infighting broke out on Tuesday after al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) occupied vast territories held by Turkish-backed NFL militants in the Aleppo province. The HTS reportedly initiated the fighting after NFL-affiliated Nour al-Din al-Zenki militants killed five of members of the Takfiri group. Clashes have now spread to Idlib and Hama provinces amid reports that other rival militant factions, including the so-called Free Syrian Army which is backed by Turkey, are joining the fighting.  The so-called Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), known to be sympathetic to militant groups in Syria, confirmed the report but put the death toll at around 100. Al-Mayadeen attributed the high death toll to ambushes and prisoner executions by the warring sides. It said nearly 20 civilians, including three children, have also been killed in the skirmishes. Videos have emerged showing some of the rival terrorist groups' casualties and captives. US withdrawal  The clashes come as Turkish troops and militant groups under their protection are digging heels in the territories under their control after President Donald Trump decided to pull out US forces in Syria. On Friday, a Qatari newspaper cited a source at the Kurdish-administered city council in Dayr al-Zawr as saying that a convoy of nearly 100 trucks had withdrawn US military vehicles and equipment from the eastern town. Al-Ra'yah said militants with the US-backed SDF group have said the convoy is heading to the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in Iraq through the northeastern Syrian province of  Hasakah. Earlier this week, American forces reportedly evacuated from a military base in al-Hasakah. The US, however, has stepped up its airstrikes in eastern Syria. On Thursday, Syria's official SANA news agency said 11 civilians belonging to the same family were killed in an air raid in the al-Shaafah town in the Dayr al-Zaw countryside. Top advisers to Trump met on Thursday to discuss Syria and other topics in the first of its kind for acting Pentagon chief Patrick Shanahan, who started his new job January 1 following the resignation of his predecessor Jim Mattis. According to a senior military official, Shanahan met with National Security Advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and General Joe Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Shanahan must oversee how the US pulls more than 2,000 troops out of Syria. Various timelines have been floated, but Trump on Wednesday seemed vague, saying only that it would happen "over a period of time." The US and its allies have been bombing Syria since September 2014 without any authorization from the Damascus government or a United Nations mandate. Washington says it is fighting Daesh terrorists but the airstrikes have come under criticism for their high civilian casualties and destroying Syria's infrastructure.

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