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.

 

Iraq investigates Mosul civilian deaths

Iran to symbolically sanction 15 US companies

Syria fighting damages IS-held dam posing rising water risk

Yemeni rebel supporters flood streets on conflict’s anniversary

Cities, monuments dim lights for Earth Hour

In Algeria, everyone wants to be MP, few likely to vote

Iran to appeal seizure of 9/11 compensation money

Hamas shuts Gaza crossing after assassination of official

Deep concern as Israeli laws entrench the occupation

Turkey’s Kurds could sway tight referendum vote

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

US and allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Israel’s air strike on Syria spooks Middle East

Gunmen kill Hamas official in Gaza

Separate Syria air strikes kill at least 32

UN says Israel has ignored resolution on illegal settlements

Veteran politician says Turkey referendum a 'test' for Kurds

More Algerian women in work, but husbands control wages

Beirut university settles US lawsuit over Hezbollah

1.1 million weekend travellers from Dubai hit by laptop ban

Shiite Lebanese women endure painful custody battles

Russia, China seek Iraq chemical weapons probe

Besieged Syrians struggle with dwindling dialysis supplies

Syria army retakes Damascus areas from rebels

Syria says peace talks must first focus on 'terrorism'

12 Syrian refugees dead after boat sinks off Turkey coast

Mosul displaced head into unknown

As war keeps them away, Yemen children dream of school

Ousted Egyptian president Mubarak freed from detention

Iraq's Sadr threatens boycott if election law unchanged

Israel, US fail to reach settlement agreement

Yemen rebel missile kills Saudi soldier

Turkish FM in Switzerland amid rising tensions with Europe

Two more 'significant arrests' over London attack

Britain arrests eight as IS claims Westminster attack

Man attempts to drive into crowd of shoppers in Belgium’s Antwerp

Palestinian FA chief says ball in Israel's court

Israel arrests Jewish teen over anti-Semitic terror threats

An Egypt court is to reopen a corruption probe into Mubarak

Bahrain frees award-winning AFP photographer

Erdogan slams 'pressure' on Turks in Bulgaria ahead of vote

Israel policeman suspended after caught on video beating Palestinian

Turkey summons Russia envoy over soldier death in Syria

Bahrain sentences three to death for police bombings

UN-backed Syria talks restart in Geneva