BEIRUT – The Latest on developments in Syra (all times local):
The U.N.'s migration agency says over 600,000 displaced Syrians have returned to their homes this year, citing an increasing trend of returns while warning the situation remains "not sustainable."
International Organization for Migration spokeswoman Olivia Headon says the 602,759 returns between January and July was on pace to surpass the figure of 685,000 in all of 2016. She said however that the 2017 returns were less than the number of displaced this year: nearly 809,000.
IOM said Friday that its partner agencies reporting found that two-thirds went to northern Aleppo governorate, where government forces ousted rebels from the city of Aleppo last year.
Twenty-seven percent of respondents said they returned to "protect their assets" and one-quarter cited "improved economic conditions." Eighty-four percent were people internally displaced, the rest fleeing abroad.
U.S.-backed Syrian fighters advancing from eastern and western parts of the northern city of Raqqa have linked up for the first time in weeks after launching their offensive against Islamic State group fighters there.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces launched a wide offensive to capture IS's de facto capital of Raqqa on June 6. Since then, SDF fighters have captured half the city under the cover of Russian airstrikes.
U.S. Army Col. Ryan Dillon tweeted that SDF forces have linked up "East-West axes" in Raqqa and are continuing to pressure IS.
Mustafa Bali, who heads the SDF media center, also confirmed Friday that SDF fighters pushing from opposite sides of the city have met.