Syria’s war: Astana peace talks ’set for January 23’

Published by Théophile Niyitegeka
On 12 January 2017 saa 02:11
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Russia reportedly confirms date for upcoming Syria negotiations in Kazakhstan’s capital amid concerns over participants.

Russia has reportedly confirmed talks between the Syrian government and the opposition are due to take place in Kazakhstan capital, Ashtana, on January 23.

The negotiations, brokered by Russia and Turkey, intend to build on the current ceasefire, which has been in effect since late December.

The truce, which does not include the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), or the former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, has brought calm to large parts of the country.

Yet, fighting has continued in some places, such as rebel-held areas on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

"At this time there is no indication that the meeting will be postponed. The date of January 23 is set," a source in the Russian foreign ministry told AFP news agency on Wednesday.

The source said that current preparations for the peace talks involve compiling a list of participants amid concerns over whether the meeting will be fully representative.

"Behind the scenes we know that the opposition is not keen on these talks," Al Jazeera’s Stefanie Dekker, reporting from Gaziantep on the Turkish side of the Syria-Turkey border, said.

"What they want to attend is the UN-sponsored talks in Geneva scheduled for February," she added.

"We are hearing that perhaps a low-level delegation by the Free Syrian Army and the High Negotiations Committee bloc could attend. At the same time, they are saying if violations of the ceasefire in besieged areas continue they will not do that."

It is still unclear whether the government representatives at the meeting in Astana and the opposition will take part in the negotiations directly.

If the negotiations are indirect, Turkey and Russia may stand in for UN mediation.

Earlier this week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that his government was ready to negotiate "on everything" during the upcoming talks in Astana, but opposition fighters have repeatedly said they do not trust the leadership in Damascus.

More than 310,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

The war has also forced millions of Syrians to flee the country and become refugees.

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Damaged buildings in the rebel-held besieged city of Douma on the outskirts of Damascus

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