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Turkey-Backed Syrian Rebels Close In On IS-Held City

Turkish military vehicles drive toward the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab last month.

Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces have seized control of strategically important hills around the Islamic State (IS)-controlled town of Al-Bab, Turkey's military says.

The military said on February 8 that 58 IS militants were killed in air strikes, artillery bombardments, and clashes.

Two Turkish soldiers were also killed, and 15 slightly wounded, it added.

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the operations resulted in considerable progress, and the next target would be the IS stronghold of Raqqa.

Observers say the battle for Al-Bab has raised the prospect of confrontation between the Turkish military and the Syrian Army, which has pushed to within a few kilometers of the town's southern outskirts.

Earlier, the White House said U.S. President Donald Trump spoke about Washington and Ankara's "shared commitment to combating terrorism in all its forms" during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on February 7.

Trump also welcomed Turkey's contributions to the fight against the IS militant group, a statement said.

Turkish presidency sources were quoted as saying the U.S. and Turkish presidents agreed to act jointly against IS fighters in Al-Bab and Raqqa.

Based on reporting by Reuters and AFP