The Latest: Russia welcomes Trump's talk of Syria pullout

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The Latest: Russia welcomes Trump's talk of Syria pullout
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, right, shakes hands with his Bangladesh counterpart Abul Hassan Mahmud Ali after a news conference during their meeting in Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 2, 2018. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

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

2:15 p.m.

Russia’s top diplomat says he is encouraged by U.S. President Donald Trump’s talk of reducing the U.S. military presence in Syria.

Trump said at an event in Ohio last week that the United States would be pulling out of Syria “very soon” despite the fact that that the State Department had been insisting for months that the U.S. needs to remain engaged there.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told reporters on Monday that Moscow is concerned that the United States has been “gaining a serious foothold” on the east bank of the Euphrates River despite Trump’s earlier promises that the U.S. would leave when the Islamic State group is defeated. Lavrov said Trump’s latest remarks show that “at least he is committed” to his original statements.

Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, ultimately helping to turn the tide of the devastating civil war in his favor. The United States helped Kurdish-led forces drive IS from much of northern and eastern Syria, and has hundreds of troops embedded with them.

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11:50 a.m.

Syrian state media say the largest rebel group in Damascus’ eastern Ghouta, the Army of Islam, has begun to evacuate from the area’s last holdout town. The government is waiting for the rebels to leave the besieged town of Douma, just east of Damascus, before it can say it has full control of the area, after seven years of revolt. Douma is the last town to hold out against government forces in the once rebel-held suburbs.

The SANA news agency says two buses carrying the rebels left Douma on Monday morning, heading for Jarablus, a town in north Syria shared between rebels and Turkish forces.

There was no immediate comment from the Army of Islam. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported the rebels’ leaving Douma.