The Latest: Syrian Kurds declare federal region in the north
MOSCOW >> The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
A Kurdish official says the main Syrian Kurdish faction has declared a federal region in Kurdish-controlled areas in northern Syria.
Nawaf Khalil, an official with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), says the announcement was made Thursday at a Kurdish conference being held in the town of Rmeilan in the northern province of Hassakeh.
The declaration comes as Syrian government representatives and their opponents are holding talks in Geneva on ways to end the war. The PYD, which is viewed by Turkey as a terrorist organization, has been excluded from those talks.
Khalil said that the federal region declared Thursday was called "Rojava — northern Syria." Rojava is a Kurdish word that refers to three distinct enclaves, or cantons, under Kurdish control in northern Syria: Jazira, Kobani and Afrin.
President Vladimir Putin says Russia can again build up its forces in Syria "in a few hours" if necessary, and will continue striking extremist groups.
Putin made the statement in the Kremlin Thursday while honoring Russian military officers who have taken part in the Syrian campaign.
On Monday, Putin ordered the withdrawal of the bulk of Russian warplanes from Syria, voicing hope that it would contribute to the success of Syria peace talks that began in Geneva.
Putin emphasized that the Russian air base and a naval facility in Syria will remain and Russia will keep enough forces there to protect them and to continue the fight against the Islamic State group, al-Qaida's branch in Syria, the Nusra Front, and other groups considered extremist by the United Nations.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman says it's up to the Syrians themselves to decide on whether the country should become a federation.
Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that the future of Syria should be discussed in an inclusive dialogue involving all of the nation's religious and ethnic groups.
He made the statement while asked to comment on a plan by the Syrian Kurds to declare a federal region in the area they control across northern Syria. The idea was promptly dismissed by both the Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and the rebels.
Peskov emphasized that Russia has consistently pushed for the Kurds to be represented in Syria peace talks, adding that consensus is essential for determining Syria's fate. He added that, "It's important for Syria to remain a single state."
The commander of the Russian Air Force says the withdrawal of the bulk of the Russian forces from Syria should be complete in two to three days.
Col.-Gen. Viktor Bondarev said in an interview with the Komsomolskaya Pravda daily on Thursday that the Air Force aims to meet President Vladimir Putin's deadline and pull out in the next two to three days.
Putin on Monday announced the withdrawal of most of the Russian forces from Syria to end a five-and-a-half-month campaign there. The first group of bombers left for Russia on Tuesday. Moscow didn't specify how many aircraft and troops would be withdrawn. It has not revealed how many soldiers it has deployed to Syria, but U.S. estimates of the number of Russian military personnel vary from 3,000 to 6,000.
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