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Turkish troops, fighters enter al-Bab center

February 23, 2017 (Photo Credit: Martial Trezzini/Keystone via AP)
GENEVA — The Latest on developments in Syria and the Geneva talks (all times local):

2 pm.

The Turkish defense minister has confirmed that Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have entered the center of the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab.

Fikri Isik told reporters on Thursday that the forces were continuing sweeping the area for remaining insurgents, adding that the town would soon be totally cleared of the extremists.

"Al-Bab is almost totally taken under control and (the forces) have entered the center," Isik said. "We will be able to say that al-Bab is fully cleared of Daesh once the sweeping activity is concluded."

He was using the Arabic name for the IS group.

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1:55 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria has held a moment of silence with a group of Syrian women bearing a message that expressed hope that the fate of detainees, abducted people and the missing will be discussed in new intra-Syrian peace talks.

Staffan de Mistura told reporters "you can be sure that we will be constantly raising detainees, abducted and missing people" during talks between government and opposition envoys. He said he hoped to start later Thursday the "bilateral" talks between the two sides.

De Mistura said he was waiting for delegations to arrive and was planning "some type of welcoming opportunity" for them, without elaborating.

He said the women were "Syrian mothers, Syrian wives, Syrian daughters, who are representative symbolically all those Syrian men, women, sometimes children who are being arrested, abducted, or are missing."

"There are thousands and thousands of mothers, wives, daughter who are hoping that at least this aspect will be one of the benefits of any negotiation," he added.

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12:45 p.m.

Turkey's state-run news agency says Turkish troops and allied Syrian fighters have seized the center of the town of al-Bab from the Islamic State group.

Anadolu Agency, quoting a Syrian opposition force commander Ahmed al Shahabi, said Thursday the troops were clearing mines and other explosives left behind by the IS militants.

Turkey sent troops across the border into northern Syrian in August to help Syrian opposition forces battle IS and halt the advances of U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters.

The troops had become bogged down in a grueling battle over al-Bab, one of the few remaining IS strongholds in northern Syria.

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10:45 a.m.

Syrian peace talks under the auspices of the United Nations have resumed in Geneva, 10 months after they fell apart over escalating bloodshed in the war-torn country.

U.N. Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is convening his first morning meeting with the delegation of the Syrian government, headed by Bashar al-Ja'aafari, on Thursday.

He is then expected to meet with Nasr Hariri, a senior member with the largest opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition.

Opposition delegates have been arriving in Geneva since Wednesday and some held late night meetings in preparation for the talks.

This is the fourth round of negotiations since early last year.

The talks are taking place amid a hard-won, fragile truce brokered by Turkey and Russia, which have backed opposite sides in the six-year civil war.

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