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Syrian rebels 'suspend participation' in Astana talks

The rebels boycotted January's peace talks in Astana [Getty]

Date of publication: 3 May, 2017

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Syria's opposition suspended its participation in the peace talks in Astana on Wednesday, just hours after delegations representing conflicting parties arrived to launch the latest round of negotiations.

Syrian rebels suspended their participation in the latest round of Russian-backed peace talks in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, to protest the ongoing bombardments in the war-torn country, opposition sources told AFP. 

"The rebel delegation is suspending the meetings because of the violent airstrikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria," a rebel source in the Kazakh capital Astana told AFP.

The fresh round of Syria peace talks kicked off in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana just hours earlier, where officials were expected to debate a Russian proposal that includes "easing zones" in four areas within war-stricken Syria.

Two days of negotiations will see representatives from Syria’s warring factions, as well as international observers, including UN envoy Staffan de Mistura, Assistant Secretary of the US Department of State, Stuart Jones and a Jordanian representative.

Russia’s special presidential envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentye, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry's Deputy Under-Secretary Sedat Onal and Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari have also been confirmed to attend the talks.

Syrian rebels had previously boycotted the third summit in Astana, citing the regime's continued bombardment of opposition-held areas in Homs and Damascus.

“I can confirm that [UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has arrived, heads of Turkish and Russian delegations have arrived. Everybody is here,” Kazakh Foreign Ministry Anuar Zhainakov said before the rebels' announcement on Wednesday.

The subject of discussion for the talks – dubbed Astana 4 – will be the Russian proposal to establish "easing” of escalation zones, similar to buffer zones, along the tense fronts between the regime and opposition groups in Idlib, northern Homs.

According to sources, Turkey has requested the extension of the zones between the regime and opposition in the northern countryside of Latakia, ranging between 1 and 2 kilometres.

In preparation for Wednesday’s meetings, the sponsors held "technical" bilateral meetings on Tuesday, excluding the Syrian armed opposition delegation.

The Turkish delegation met separately with the Russian and Iranian delegations, while the representatives of the Syrian regime excluded Turkey in their meeting with the Iranians, Russians and the UN delegation.

The talks came a day after a meeting between Russia’s Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump, in which the two leaders agreed "the suffering in Syria has been prolonged and that all parties must do everything they can to end violence," according to a White House statement.

The Syrian conflict began six years ago, when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria.

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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