First Published: 2017-02-16

Fresh Astana talks between Syrian regime, rebels
Russian-backed talks take place between Syrian government, rebel groups as precursor to UN-led Geneva peace talks next week.
Middle East Online

Mohammed Alloush head of Syria opposition delegation

ASTANA - Representatives from the Syrian government and rebel groups held fresh talks on Thursday with key powerbrokers Russia, Turkey and Iran aimed at shoring up a fragile ceasefire.

The meeting is the second time key players Moscow, Ankara and Tehran have brought the warring sides together, and comes ahead of a new round of UN-led talks on Syria in Geneva on February 23.

The latest round of discussions is expected to focus mostly on bolstering a faltering six-week truce and has been billed as a prelude to broader negotiations in Geneva.

The regional brokers met separately for talks with regime and rebel delegates on Thursday in the Kazakh capital Astana.

It appeared unlikely that the two sides would meet one-on-one, but a plenary session involving all parties was scheduled.

A first set of talks on Syria that took place in Astana in January saw the rebels refuse to talk directly to the regime and did not result in any significant breakthrough.

Rebel spokesman Yehya al-Aridi said Wednesday the opposition was sending a a "smaller" delegation than the one it sent for the talks last month.

The rebels, who initially cast doubt over their participation in the latest meeting, will be led by Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure of the Army of Islam (Jaish al-Islam), he confirmed.

The Syrian regime is represented in Astana by its ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari.

Moscow has increasingly taken the lead on pushing talks over Syria after its military intervention on the side of leader Bashar al-Assad helped turn the tables in the protracted conflict.

While Russia and Iran back the regime with military might, Turkey has supported rebels fighting to oust Assad.

Moscow says the Astana process is meant to support the Geneva talks, but there has been speculation that it is working with Ankara to cut the West out of shaping Syria's future.

As the talks were set to begin in Astana, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura was in Moscow for talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu.

"Now is the right time to step up efforts to normalise the political process in Syria," de Mistura told Lavrov in comments translated into Russian by the state-run TASS news agency.

De Mistura's office is being represented by a technical team at the Astana meet.

 

US-backed forces capture key Syria oil field

Tillerson attends landmark Saudi, Iraq meeting

UN ends Libya talks with no progress made

Tillerson does not expect Gulf crisis to be resolved soon

Ancient Turkish town set to vanish forever under floodwaters

Gulf share values plummet

More than half of Austrians vote for anti-immigration party

Washington sees potential Hezbollah threat in the US

Cairo killing sparks security concerns among Copts

Iraq PM arrives in Saudi to upgrade ties

35 Egyptian police killed in Islamist ambush

Morocco recalls Algeria envoy over 'hashish money' jibe

Ceremony marks 75 years since WWII Battle of El Alamein

Somalia attack death toll rises to 358

Long road ahead for families of jailed Morocco protesters

How Raqa recapture affects complex Syrian war

Israel hits Syrian artillery after Golan fire

Germany advances Israel submarine deal after corruption holdup

Bashir Gemayel's killer convicted, 35 years later

SDF hails 'historic victory' against IS in Raqa

Hamas delegation visits Iran

Turkish court orders release of teacher on hunger strike

Yemen rebel youth minister urges children to join war

Iran's Guards show no intention of curbing activities in Mideast

EU will cut some money for Turkey as ties sour

Iraqi workers return to oil fields retaken from Kurds

Kurdish disarray shows resurgence of Iraq's army

Iranian military chief visits frontline near Syria's Aleppo

Iraq army takes last Kurd-held area of Kirkuk province

Turkey issues arrest warrants for 110 people over Gulen links

Lebanon approves first budget since 2005

Moscow seeks to boost its influence in Kurdistan through oil

Hamas calls US unity comments ‘blatant interference’

OPEC chief pleased with oil market rebalancing

Turkish police detain leading civil society figure

G7, tech giants meet to tackle terror online

Iraq’s Kurdish regional government open to Baghdad talks

Tensions flare among Yemen's rebels

Baghdad court issues arrest warrant for Iraqi Kurd VP

Erdogan, Nigerian counterpart to ramp up cooperation

Russian medics operate on Yemen's Saleh despite embargo

Baghdad condemns oil deal between Russia’s Rosneft, Kurds

Power shifts again in Iraq's multi-ethnic Kirkuk

Syrian general accused of journalist deaths killed in Deir Ezzor

Raqa liberators ready for civilian handover, on to next battle