01/17/2017, 16.07
SYRIA – KAZAKHSTAN
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“All” rebel groups to be present at the Syria peace talks in Astana

Brokered by Russia and Turkey, the meeting is set for the Kazakh capital. For rebel leader, the aim is to end the "crimes" of the Syrian government. Assad is "optimistic". For Lavrov, this is an opportunity to extend ceasefire and involve rebel field commanders in "the political process".

Astana (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Syrian rebel groups have confirmed that they will attend peace talks with the government in Astana, Kazakhstan, on 23 January.

A leader of Jaysh al-Islam, Mohammed Alloush, said he would head the rebel delegation and aim to end the "crimes" of the government and its allies.

"All the rebel groups are going. Everyone has agreed," Mr Alloush added, one of the top rebel leaders.

Similarly, Ahmad al-Othman from the Sultan Murad faction said that "the rebel groups have decided to go to the talks".

For Alloush, "Astana is a process to end the bloodletting by the regime and its allies. We want to end this series of crimes.”

In May of last year, he quit as the chief negotiator for the High Negotiations Committee, saying the Geneva talks had been "a waste of time" and accusing the government of intransigence.

An official in the Free Syrian Army, which includes Western-backed groups, said that "The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the ceasefire and the violations by the regime.”

For his part, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said earlier this month that he was "optimistic" about the talks and would be "ready for reconciliation with (rebels) on the condition that they lay down their arms.” 

Peace talks are set to start Monday of next week (23 January) in Astana, brokered by Russia and Turkey.

The two were also instrumental in securing Syria’s current fragile national truce, which came into effect at midnight on 30 December.

Nonetheless, the latter continues to be violated. On Sunday, at least nine civilians were killed by government shelling of a rebel-held village, this according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

One major hot spot is Wadi Barada, north-west of Damascus, which supplies the city with its water. Several rebel groups wanted to boycott the talks because of the government's offensive in this area.

Complicating matters, it is still unclear whether the United States will be present.

For Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the peace talks are aimed at extending the nation-wide ceasefire. At the same time, Russia’s top diplomat noted that the talks would also provide an opportunity to involve rebel field commanders in "the political process" to end the bloodshed in Syria.

This excludes however the Islamic State group and its rival, the Fateh al-Sham Front (previously known as al-Nusra Front.

Syria’s crisis began in March 2011 after people took to the streets to protest against the Assad regime. This eventually morphed into a regional war with Jihadi infiltration.

After almost six years, more than 300,000 people have been killed and 11 million displaced, creating the worst humanitarian disaster since the Second World War.

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