The 11th session of the Astana negotiations on Syria opens today
by Pierre Balanian

Syrian opposition members will also be present, together with the UN special envoy on Syria and - for the first time - delegates from Jordan. The meeting is supported by Russia, Turkey and Iran. The most burning issue is the situation of Idlib. The Syrian Red Crescent delegation that recently presided over an exchange of prisoners, also invited.

Istanbul (AsiaNews) - "The Syrian opposition delegation will be present and will participate in Astana" Ayman Al Asmi, press spokesman of Syrian armed opposition, told AsiaNews, saying that members of the opposition delegation represent some factions present in Idlib, as well as the areas of the "Euphrates Shield" and Afrin. For Al Asmi, the situation of Idlib is sensitive and weighs on the minds of all those taking part.

Today marks a new round of two days of peace talks in the Kazakh capital  the "Astana Platform", led by Russia, Turkey and Iran with the participation of the United Nations, as an observer. This time there is also Jordan. The United States as usual does not participate in these talks, while news released two days ago by the Kazakh Foreign Ministry confirmed the presence of the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura, the Syrian government delegation and the opposition delegation.

The meeting comes in the immediate aftermath of yet another serious chemical weapon attack attacks in the Aleppo hinterland, under the control of Damascus, and the Russian response that bombed the Syrian armed opposition areas from where, according to Moscow, the missiles carrying chemical poisons were launched.

In a statement received by AsiaNews, the Syrian armed opposition denied all responsibility for the use of chemical weapons, pointing the finger at Al Hader, an area controlled by pro-Iranian and pro-government Shiite militias. Both the opposition and the Syrian government have called for the establishment of an independent international commission of inquiry to shed light on this crime against humanity.

There is little news about the agenda leaked by the Kazakh ministry of foreign affairs. According to many sources, there will not be the composition of the Commission for the drafting of the new Syrian Constitution, which concerns  Staffan De Mistura, who will leave office at the end of this year. The crux of the problem  is disagreement about whether or not a civil society list should be entered as the third neutral group, alongside a third of government members and a third of the opposition.

Sources consulted by AsiaNews are primarily concerned about the situation in Idlib, where more than 4.5 million people are concentrated, which has become the last stronghold of myriads of armed groups and of opposition mercenaries and their family members, from around the world .

The idea being rumored is to follow the cease-fire in progress, with demilitarized and demarcating zones, the withdrawal of the extremist and fundamentalist armed opposition, to finally leave space for civil opposition. The issue is delicate because it implies preventing Syrian army troops from going ahead with their project to use armed force to bring control of this area back to Damascus.

The Syrian opposition in Turkey told AsiaNews that the opposition members intend insisting on continued prisoners exchanges between the opposition and the government. A first step in this direction occurred a few days ago when 20 prisoners from the Syrian opposition armed factions were released in exchange for 10 prisoners freed from the opposition detention camps in the Aleppo area, in the presence of the Syrian Red Crescent. According to Kazake press reports, a delegation from the Red Crescent will also be present in Astana.