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Rebels announce capture of Al-Bab from IS

The rebels launched their offensive to capture Al-Bab last year with the support of Turkish ground troops, artillery and air strikes.

More than 310,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced by Syria's bitter six-year conflict
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Turkey's state-run Anadolu Agency reported that rebels had overrun the centre of the town, which had been a key IS stronghold just 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of the border.

"We are announcing Al-Bab completely liberated, and we are now clearing mines from the residential neighbourhoods," said Ahmad Othman, commander of the Sultan Mourad rebel group.

"After hours of fighting, we chased out the last remaining IS rank and file that were collapsing after the fierce shelling of their positions," he added.

But the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that IS fighters were still present in parts of the town and the rebels were in control of less than half of it.

Field commanders from two other rebel factions in the town confirmed the news to AFP.

"Yesterday (Wednesday), we captured the city centre, which was IS's security zone... The jihadists collapsed, and this morning around 6 am (0400 GMT) we completed the operation," said Saif Abu Bakr, who heads the Al-Hamza rebel group.

Abu Jaafar, a field commander of the Mutasem Brigades, said he expected clearing up operations would be wrapped up within hours.

"Dozens of IS fighters were killed and we evacuated more than 50 families from inside Al-Bab," Abu Jaafar said.

Turkey sent troops into Syria in August last year in an operation it said targeted not only IS but also US-backed Kurdish fighters it regards as terrorists.

The battle for Al-Bab has been the bloodiest of the campaign with most of the 69 Turkish soldiers killed dying there.

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