BEIRUT — The Latest on developments in the war in Syria (all times local):

9:15 p.m.

The U.N. envoy for Syria says the current round of peace talks is to run through Dec. 15, as he downplayed the need for face-to-face meetings while playing up how the two sides were physically closer.

Staffan de Mistura on Thursday held the first news conference since talks began formally a day earlier with the arrival of the Syrian government envoys. It is the 8th round he has hosted since early 2016.

He touted an unspecified “12 points” in the works that could lead to a “shared vision of what Syria could look like” after 6-1/2 years of war that has claimed at least 400,000 lives.

De Mistura cited a “serious and professional” atmosphere between the opposition and government delegations, and pointed to a lack of trust as “the biggest obstacle.”

In a relative rarity, the two delegations were in the U.N. building simultaneously Thursday in what de Mistura said were rooms that were “5 meters away” for the “close proximity parallel discussions” — with him shuttling between them.


5 p.m.

The U.S. military operation in Syria and Iraq says it is sending home more the 400 Marines and their artillery from Syria, after they accomplished their mission against the Islamic State group.

The press unit for Operation Inherent Resolve says the 1st Battalion, 10th Marine Regiment was supporting local partner forces with artillery firepower to defeat Islamic State militants in their former capital city, Raqqa.

The city fell to a mix of Kurdish, Arab and other local forces on Oct. 20 after a 4-month assault that was backed by U.S. and international coalition airpower and artillery.

The unit announced the draw down in a statement Thursday: “With the city liberated and ISIS on the run, the unit has been ordered home. Its replacements have been called off.”

The U.S. is estimated to have more than 1,500 troops posted to Syria, including special forces, forward air controllers, and at least one Marine artillery unit. They have more than a dozen bases in north Syria.


4:45 p.m.

Turkey’s state-run news agency says the military has sent reinforcements to a border region close to a Syrian-Kurdish stronghold.

Anadolu Agency said paramilitary forces escorted a convoy of trucks carrying howitzers and armored personnel carriers to the border town of Kilis on Thursday.

The military build-up comes amid warnings by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials that Turkey may intervene a Syrian Kurdish group in Syria’s Afrin region, north of Idlib, that Turkey considers to be a security threat.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a meeting in Baku, Azerbaijan on Thursday: “If there is a threat against Turkey from Afrin or from any other region, we would enter these places without hesitation.”

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish militia as terrorists because of their affiliation with outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.


12:20 p.m.

Amnesty International says the Syrian government has used internationally banned cluster munitions in attacks on a besieged rebel-held suburb of Damascus.

Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb northeast of the Syrian capital, has been under a tightening siege since 2013 and is already facing a humanitarian crisis, including the highest recorded malnutrition rate since the conflict began in 2011.

Some 400,000 civilians are believed trapped there.

Amnesty said on Thursday that at least 10 civilians died because of the government’s use of the banned Soviet-made cluster munitions. That’s based on interviews with activists, verification of open source videos and photographers.

Amnesty says the indiscriminate weapons gravely endanger civilians because of their indiscriminate nature. The watchdog says they first appeared in Syria after Russia began strikes against anti-government groups in September 2015.