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U.S. troops, Kurdish fighters to leave Syrian border region

As Kurdish fighters evacuated areas of Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday, a U.S. official said American forces in the region will be redeployed to Iraq to conduct operations against the Islamic State. Those developments came as Lebanon’s prime minister agreed to reforms amid widespread protests. Associated Press reporter Sarah El Deeb joins Alison Stewart from Beirut to discuss.

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  • Alison Stewart:

    Joining us now from Beirut, Lebanon, via Skype is Associated Press reporter Sarah El Deeb. I understand you've been speaking with Kurdish leaders. What have you learned?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Well, the biggest development today was that they actually withdrew their fighters from the town that was at the center of the standoff in the last few days. Kurdish fighters and civilians have left the town. So now we're expecting Turkish military and Turkish factions to move in.

  • Alison Stewart:

    You've also spoken with an aide to President Erdogan in anticipation of Erdogan's meeting with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday. What did he signal they'll discuss?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    As the U.S. decided to basically let the Turkish operation take place, the Kurdish fighters reached out to Russia and the Syrian government for protection. So in the middle of the Turkish offensive, we've seen government forces take position on the border, at least in one town, with the idea that they will be replacing the Americans and providing some kind of cover for the Kurdish fighters in that area. But now we have Turkey telling Russia that it cannot accept the situation. Turkey's drive or logic behind the operation is that it wants to drive out the Kurdish fighters from the border, but it also wants to resettle Syrian refugees in that stretch of land. And the explanation that we got was that the Syrian refugees who are now in Turkey would not want to go back to an area that is controlled by the Syrian government.

  • Alison Stewart:

    And I do want to let our viewers know that you are currently in Beirut, Lebanon, and there is a second wave of anti-government protests, a second wave this month. What sparked the protest this weekend?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    The spark was really attacks that they wanted to impose on WhatsApp, on the use of WhatsApp and voice messaging and calls through WhatsApp. But it was just one straw that broke the back, it seems. There is so many taxes that have been imposed and the country's very indebted. And so over the last few weeks, we've had several protests over new export and import taxes, new cuts to government benefits and pensions and so on. So I think when there was a proposed tax on WhatsApp, people just rose up and this is one of the biggest waves of protest we've seen in this country in years.

  • Alison Stewart:

    Sarah, there have been some reports that Prime Minister Hariri might step down. How likely is something like that?

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    He'd never said he would step down. He said he's giving 72 hours for his partners in the government to come up with a creative solution. He's also backed by the West. So I think him stepping out of the scene is not an easy matter, even though there is so much popular pressure for everyone who's currently in power to go. Tomorrow he is — the 72 hours and tomorrow that's like in less than 24 hours. From the turnout today on the streets of Beirut and other cities, I don't see this is going to disappear in one day. I think this time people say if we go back home without major changes, then we'd lose the momentum and we cannot get that level of popular mobilization again.

  • Alison Stewart:

    Sarah El Deeb from the Associated Press. Thank you so much for sharing your reporting.

  • Sarah El Deeb:

    Thank you for having me.

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