The Latest: Syrian opposition forming delegation for talks

BEIRUT (AP) " The Latest on the war in Syria (all times local):

6:25 p.m.

A Syrian opposition official says rebels and political groups are preparing to appoint a 20-member delegation to United Nations-brokered talks with the government planned for Feb. 20 in Geneva.

Yahya al-Aridi of the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee said Saturday that Nasr al-Hariri of the Western-backed Syrian National Coalition would head the mixed delegation of rebel leaders and exiled opposition figures.

The so-called "Geneva process" to wind down the Syria war stalled in April last year. The war has raged since 2011.

Diplomatic contacts picked up again in December, with rebels and the government pledging to honor a national cease-fire.

The truce has not held. The two sides met again for talks in Astana, Kazakhstan last month, ahead of the planned resumption of the Geneva talks in about one week's time.

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5:20 p.m.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres says the fight against terrorists and extremists in Syria cannot succeed without a political solution that is supported by the Syrian people.

Guterres made the comments in Istanbul on Saturday during a meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his office said in a statement.

Guterres also said he was "grateful" that a peace conference for Syria in Kazakhstan " sponsored by Turkey, Russia and Iran " was held in support of peace negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition being held in Geneva under the U.N.'s auspices.

The secretary-general is touring Turkey, five Mideast nations and Germany on his first major trip since taking the helm of the United Nations on Jan. 1.

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5:15 p.m.

Turkey's military says another soldier has been killed in clashes during the battle to capture the Syrian town of al-Bab from the Islamic State militants.

One soldier was wounded in the clashes, the military said without providing details.

The death announced on Saturday raises the number of Turkish troops killed in Turkey's military operation in northern Syria to 65.

On Thursday, three soldiers were killed in an airstrike by a Russian warplane near al Bab. President Vladimir Putin called his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to express his regrets over the friendly fire incident.

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2:15 p.m.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency is reporting that Iran will allow Russian jetfighters to fly over its airspace to support military operations in Syria.

The Saturday report quotes Ali Shamkhami, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council. He says: "Cooperation between Iran and Russia to fight against terrorism in Syria has wide and comprehensive dimensions."

In August, Iran confirmed that Russian bombers had launched airstrikes from near the Iranian city of Hamedan, 280 kilometers (175 miles) southwest of the Iranian capital Tehran to hit targets in in eastern Syria.

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2:05 p.m.

Syrian opposition forces say they have advanced inside the Islamic State-held town of al-Bab, in northern Syria.

The Turkish-backed Ahrar al-Sham militia announced Saturday on Twitter that opposition forces had taken the city's silos and sports complex in its southwestern districts. The coalition's operations room released a video on social media showing its fighters at the gates of the Hikma hospital. Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported the hospital's capture.

Turkish troops and aircraft are also engaged in the "Euphrates Shield" assault on al-Bab.

The Turkish-backed forces are racing to seize al-Bab before rival Syrian government forces arrive. The Observatory says government forces are about 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) away.

Al-Bab is 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of the Turkish border.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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