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Syrian Government, Rebels Have New Chance for Peace in Astana

ASTANA – The capital of Kazakhstan, Astana, this week will host a new two-day round of talks between the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and various armed rebel factions, under the auspices of Russia, the government bloc’s guarantor, and Turkey, who supports the opposition.

The rebels will seek to strengthen the cease-fire that began on Dec. 30 and implement the guarantees along with improving the humanitarian situation in the war-torn Middle Eastern country, according to what a member of the opposition delegation who asked to remain anonymous told EFE in Astana.

The talks – which will start on Monday – were convened within the framework of the cease-fire agreement between the rebels and the government, and they exclude the Islamic State jihadist group and the Front for the Conquest of the Levant, formerly known as the Al Nusra Front, the former Syrian affiliate of Al Qaeda.

According to the opposition team member all 45 of the representatives of the armed factions – under the aegis of the Free Syrian Army – are now in the Kazakh capital.

“If those talks are successful in fixing the cease-fire, improving the humanitarian situation by lifting the blockage and guaranteeing access to aid as well as liberating political prisoners, then we will have a good common basis for beginning the negotiations in Geneva (on Feb. 8) and seeking the political transition,” said the representative.

The opposition delegation includes a total of 13 rebel factions, including political, legal, military and information consultants, among them the current vice president and former vice president of the Syrian National Coalition, the main opposition group, Bashar Abdul Hakim and Hisham Marwa, respectively.

The Front for the Conquest of the Levant, which is fighting along with rebel groups on certain fronts, has criticized the talks, saying that “whoever goes to Astana directly or indirectly accepts the permanence of the criminal Bashar al-Assad at the head of the government.”

Meanwhile, the 10-member government delegation headed by Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, Bashar al-Yafari, is scheduled to arrive Sunday afternoon in Astana and includes Syrian envoy to Russia Riyad Hadad, Foreign Ministry adviser Ahmad Arnus and others.

Also taking part in the talks will be UN special envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab Affairs Hosein Ansari.

The administration of newly inaugurated US President Donald Trump announced Saturday that it will not send a formal delegation to the Astana talks and that Washington’s ambassador to Kazakhstan will represent it at the conference.

This is the first time that Astana will host a round of talks between the Syrian government and opposition. Three rounds already have been held in Geneva between 2012 and 2016 without the parties being able to arrive at a solution to the crisis.


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