Arab League welcomes Russian troop withdrawal from Syria
FILE -- In this Jan. 10, 2016 photo, Arab foreign ministers attend an emergency Arab League session in Cairo, Egypt. On Friday, March 11, 2016, Egypt’s state news agency says the Arab League has formally branded Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group a terrorist organization. The vote aligns the 22-member league behind Saudi Arabia and the Saudi-led bloc of six Gulf Arab nations which made the same move earlier this month. However, the Saudi ambassador in Cairo, Ahmed Qattan, told the satellite TV station Al Arabiya that the vote was not unanimous as Lebanon and Iraq abstained. (AP Photo Ahmed Omar, File)

CAIRO:  The Arab League welcomed Russia’s decision to withdraw its troops from Syria, saying on Wednesday the move would help U.N.-mediated talks to end the country’s war.

President Vladimir Putin unexpectedly announced on Monday that most Russian forces would leave Syria, more than five months after they started air strikes to bolster President Bashar al-Assad.

A steady stream of warplanes has flown home since then.

Russia has insisted its forces targeted Islamic State and other jihadists, but the West has accused Moscow of also hitting civilians and other opposition forces that negotiators hope will agree to a future settlement.

“The Russian announcement… represents a positive and important step towards fostering efforts … for the success of the Geneva negotiations taking place under the auspices of the United Nations and for stabilising the truce,” Arab League secretary-general Nabil al-Araby said in a statement.

The Syrian government and the Western-backed opposition are holding U.N.-mediated peace talks in Geneva as part of a diplomatic push launched with U.S.-Russian support to end the five-year-old conflict.

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