Europe

The Latest: Turkish-backed fighters close to taking al-Bab

  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016 photo released by the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to The Associated Press at the presidential palace in Damascus, Syria. The House on Nov. 15, overwhelmingly approved bipartisan bills to crack down on supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and renew a decades-old Iran sanctions law. Swift passage underscored broad support on Capitol Hill for punishing financial backers of the Syrian government and maintaining economic pressure on Tehran.(Syrian Presidency via AP)

    FILE - In this Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2016 photo released by the Syrian Presidency, Syrian President Bashar Assad speaks to The Associated Press at the presidential palace in Damascus, Syria. The House on Nov. 15, overwhelmingly approved bipartisan bills to crack down on supporters of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and renew a decades-old Iran sanctions law. Swift passage underscored broad support on Capitol Hill for punishing financial backers of the Syrian government and maintaining economic pressure on Tehran.(Syrian Presidency via AP)  (The Associated Press)

  • Map shows areas of control in Syria and recent airstrikes; 3c x 3 1/4 inches; 146 mm x 82 mm;

    Map shows areas of control in Syria and recent airstrikes; 3c x 3 1/4 inches; 146 mm x 82 mm;  (The Associated Press)

  • FILE -- In this Oct. 11, 2016 file photo, provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, residents sit amongst rubble in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria. Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, for the first time in three weeks, fearing it could signal the start of a new government offensive in the northern city. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that airstrikes struck three neighborhoods. It had no immediate word on casualties. (Syrian Civil Defense- White Helmets via AP, File)

    FILE -- In this Oct. 11, 2016 file photo, provided by the Syrian Civil Defense group known as the White Helmets, residents sit amongst rubble in rebel-held eastern Aleppo, Syria. Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit rebel-held eastern Aleppo on Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2016, for the first time in three weeks, fearing it could signal the start of a new government offensive in the northern city. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that airstrikes struck three neighborhoods. It had no immediate word on casualties. (Syrian Civil Defense- White Helmets via AP, File)  (The Associated Press)

The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):

11:40 a.m.

Turkey's president says Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces are facing resistance from Islamic State fighters but are close to taking the Syrian town of al-Bab from the extremists.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan also told reporters Wednesday that U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters — which Turkey views as terrorists because of their affiliation to Kurdish rebels in Turkey — would soon leave the town of Manbij, in keeping with a U.S. promise to Turkey.

Erdogan said the opposition fighters were some 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) from al-Bab.

"The siege is going according to plan," Erdogan said. "There is a resistance there at the moment but I don't think it will last long."

Ankara sent ground forces into northern Syria in August, vowing to clear the border area of both IS and Syrian Kurdish militias.

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11:15 a.m.

Syrian President Bashar Assad says U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could be a "natural ally" to the Damascus government in its grinding civil war.

In an interview published Tuesday with the Portuguese state TV channel, Assad said his government would need to see if the incoming administration is "genuine" about fighting "terrorists" in Syria.

International observers say Syrian and allied Russian forces regularly strike hospitals, schools, and other civilian infrastructure in opposition-held areas, against international law. Assad maintains he is fighting terrorism.

In the run-up to last week's presidential election, Trump said he was ready to work with Assad to fight against the Islamic State group in Syria.

More than 300,000 people have been killed in the 5-1/2 year-long Syrian civil war.