Ili (ēˈlēˈ) [key] or Ile ēˈlā, river of China and Kazakhstan, 590 mi (950 km) long, rising in the Tian Shan, NW Xinjiang, and flowing W across the China-Kazakhstan border, through the sandy Sary Ishikotrau Desert and into Lake Balkash. Yining (Kuldja), in Xinjiang, is the largest city on the river. The Ili is used for irrigation and is navigable in its middle course. The entire Ili valley was occupied by the Russians from 1871 to 1881, when the present border was established; China has regained only part of its original territory.
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