Syrian rebels expected in Astana : Kazakhstan foreign ministry

Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry said Syria’s rebel delegation was expected in Astana on Wednesday night for peace talks which are taking place to end the six year civil war.

A spokesman for the ministry said the rebels would come for consultations with Russia, Turkey and Iran.

The Syrian opposition had previously said it would skip the talks.

NAN reports that Russia had sought to revive diplomacy over Syria since its air force helped government forces defeat rebel groups in eastern Aleppo in December, Assad’s biggest victory of the war.

The cooperation of Turkey, one of the main backers of rebel groups fighting in northern Syria, has been crucial to the Russian diplomatic effort, helping to broker a ceasefire in December after the rebels’ Aleppo defeat.

Two previous rounds of Astana talks have sought to consolidate that ceasefire, reflecting an improvement in Russian-Turkish ties that had been strained to breaking point by the Syrian war.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Russian Defence Ministry was in touch with Syrian rebel leaders who boycotted the talks, the Interfax news agency reported.

He said Russia was dealing with the situation.

The Kremlin spokesman described the talks as hugely complex.

“Sometimes the situation at these talks is really complicated because of substantial differences in approaches of various countries,” Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call.

“The work continues,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin had credited the Kazakhstan talks, which focus on reducing the fighting, with jumpstarting UN-led peace talks in Geneva seeking a political settlement to the six-year conflict.

The Geneva talks broke off without any progress as seemingly unbridgeable divisions persist, chiefly over the future of Assad who seems militarily unassailable in the areas of western Syria under government control.

The previous Astana talks had been attended by rebel groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army banner.

A spokesman for the rebels on Monday accused Russia of “continuing its crimes” against civilians in Syria, a reference to Russian air strikes, and of supporting “the crimes of the Syrian regime”.

The rebels say Russia has failed to live up to its commitments as a guarantor of the ceasefire, saying government and allied forces continue to press attacks on remaining rebel-held areas in western Syria.

The Syrian government envoy to the talks said his delegation was in Astana to meet Syria’s Russian and Iranian allies, not the rebel factions.

“When one of the three guarantors breaks their commitment, and I mean Turkey, this means that Turkey must be the one that is asked about the non-attendance or participation of these armed groups,” Bashar al Ja’afari, the envoy, said in broadcast remarks from Astana.

He added that the rebels’ decision on whether to attend or not was taken not by them, but by “their operators”.

Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was in Moscow seeking to build cooperation with Putin over military operations in Syria.

Turkey is attempting to create a border “safe zone” in northern Syria free of Islamic State and the Kurdish YPG militia.

The Russian-backed Syrian army has advanced to the frontier of YPG-held areas, but is not fighting the Kurds.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said Russian officials held intensive talks with Turkish and Iranian representatives on Tuesday.(Reuters/NAN)

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