Syrian government forces take over positions from U.S.-backed militia in northern Syria: militia spokesman

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AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian government forces have taken over positions from a U.S.-backed militia in the northern city of Manbij on part of a frontline with Turkish-backed rebel forces, in line with a deal brokered by Russia, the militia’s spokesman said on Monday.

“The handover has taken place..,” Sharfan Darwish, the spokesman for the Manbij Military Council, told Reuters. Earlier on Monday, he said around five villages were included in the deal.

The villages west of the city of Manbij have been a focus of fighting since Wednesday between Turkish-backed rebels opposed to the Syrian government, and the Manbij Military Council, which includes the powerful Kurdish YPG group.

Turkey’s campaign in Syria is aimed at driving Islamic State from its border and preventing expansion in the area by the YPG, which it regards as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) that is waging an insurgency against Ankara.

The U.S.-allied militia said last Thursday it would hand back to Syrian government control villages on a front line where it has been fighting Turkish-backed rebels.

That followed an agreement with Russia to pre-empt an attempt by Turkish-led forces to take the city.

The Manbij Military Council, part of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), captured the area around Manbij from Islamic State militants last year.

Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Hugh Lawson