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The Latest: Hezbollah welcomes Syrian breach of IS siege

A relative of one of the soldiers who was kidnapped and later killed by Islamic State militants weeps in a tent set up in downtown Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2017. The results of DNA testing announced Wednesday confirmed that bodies recovered from the Lebanese-Syrian border area last month belong to 8 Lebanese soldiers who were abducted and later killed by Islamic State militants. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

5:30 p.m.

The Lebanese militant Hezbollah group whose fighters are among Iranian-backed forces pushing toward Deir el-Zour is congratulating the Syrian leadership for breaching a siege by the Islamic State group on parts of the eastern city.

In a statement Wednesday, it says this latest achievement is a “prelude for the liberation of all remaining Syrian territory.”

Backed by Russian airpower, Syrian forces and allied militiamen on Tuesday reached besieged troops in Deir el-Zour, breaking a nearly three-year siege by IS militants in a significant triumph against the extremists.

Hezbollah, in its statement, described it as a victory also for Syria’s allies who stood by it, and said this would not have happened were it not for the “determination” of the Syrian leadership.

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4:45 p.m.

The U.N.’s Syria envoy is expressing hope that lifting the siege on Deir el-Zour will soon allow for humanitarian access to flow into the besieged eastern city in a much cheaper and more effective way.

Staffan de Mistura spoke to reporters in Geneva Wednesday a day after Syrian government forces breached the siege imposed by the Islamic State group on government-held parts of the city.

De Mistura also called on the opposition to recalibrate and unify, and be ready for “serious negotiations” with government representatives that the U.N. hopes to convene in October. He also called on the government to be prepared to “genuinely negotiate and not simply announce victory.”

“The alternative otherwise is very dangerous, that we will leave it in a limbo… with no peace and no war,” he said.

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2:45 p.m.

DNA testing on eight bodies recovered from the Lebanese-Syria border region has confirmed they are the remains of Lebanese soldiers who were abducted in 2014 and later killed by Islamic State militants.

The bodies were recovered late last month in a Hezbollah-brokered deal with the militants. Under the deal, hundreds of militants and their relatives were allowed to leave the border area, headed to IS-held areas near the border with Iraq, in return for information on the whereabouts of the bodies of the Lebanese soldiers.

Part of the convoy carrying the militants is still stranded in government-held territory in Syria after the U.S.-led coalition prevented them from being relocated.

Families of the eight soldiers were informed Wednesday by Lebanese army commander Gen. Joseph Aoun of the results of the DNA testing.

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1:20 p.m.

The commander of the Russian forces in Syria says Russian jets have carried out more than 2,600 airstrikes in the past two weeks to support the government’s efforts to drive Islamic State militants from an eastern city.

President Bashar Assad’s troops on Tuesday broke the nearly three-year militant blockade of parts of the city of Deir el-Zour, marking a significant advance against the extremists.

In comments carried by Russian news agencies on Wednesday, Col. Gen. Sergei Surovikin said Russian jets made nearly 1,500 flights from a Syrian base in the past two weeks.

Surovikin said the Russian airstrikes killed an estimated 1,200 militants and destroyed an unspecified number of armored vehicles, ammunition depots and artillery.

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1:15 p.m.

U.N.-mandated investigators say they have solid evidence a Russian-built plane used by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s air force conducted a sarin-gas attack in the spring that killed at least 83 civilians and sparked a retaliatory U.S. strike.

The latest report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria also says U.S. forces failed to take “all feasible precautions” to protect civilians in attacking alleged terrorists in Aleppo in March, destroying part of a mosque complex.

The report offers some of the strongest evidence yet of allegations that Assad’s forces conducted the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province.

The U.S. quickly launched a punitive strike on Shayrat air base, where the report says the Sukhoi-22 plane took off.

The report issued Wednesday covers a span from March to early July.

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1 p.m.

Syrian activists say fierce fighting is underway between pro-government forces and Islamic State militants around a garrison in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.

Wednesday’s fighting came the day after Syrian troops backed by Russia and Iran breached a nearly three-year IS siege of parts of the city near the Iraqi border.

By nightfall, activists said the IS militants had counterattacked with multiple suicide assaults near where the Syrian troops had linked up with government forces inside the city. Heavy fighting was ongoing around the military base of the 137th Brigade on the outskirts of Deir el-Zour.

The breaching of the siege was a victory for President Bashar Assad, and could soon provide relief for tens of thousands of civilians besieged by the militants since early 2015.

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