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Delegates from Damascus, terror groups begin peace talks in Astana



Representatives of the Syrian government and opposition groups have gathered in the Kazakh capital Astana to hold peace talks aimed at ending the six-year conflict in the Arab state, with senior diplomats from Iran, Russia and Turkey mediating the process.

The two-day talks opened at Astana’s Rixos President Hotel on Monday with Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov delivering the keynote speech.

The negotiations, which are backed by the United Nations, will be held behind closed doors.

At the event, Iran and Russia will be mediating on behalf of the Syrian administration, while Turkey will be siding with the opposition.

Syria’s UN ambassador and head of the Damascus delegation Bashar al-Ja’afari (R) speaks with Syrian ambassador to Russia Riad Haddad prior to the first session of Syria peace talks at Astana’s Rixos President Hotel on January 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

On the eve of the negotiations, delegates from the three countries held long-hours talks in Astana. They discussed the direction of the negotiations, including the order in which the oppositionists will be attending.

The United Nations Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is also in the Kazakh capital for the negotiations.

Late on Sunday, the UN official met with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hossein Jaberi Ansari, who is heading the Iranian team of mediators.

During the talks, Jaberi Ansari emphasized the need for the world body to play a role in efforts to speed up the peace process in Syria.

Mediators reportedly want direct discussions between the Syrian government and political opposition.

However, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Roman Vassilenko said Monday that the parties to the negotiations have yet to agree on direct negotiations, and the issue is still under discussion.

Opposition groups  also said they would not negotiate face-to-face with the government in the first session of the discussions.

UN  Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura(R), and head of the opposition delegation Mohammed Alloush (L), enter a hall for talks on Syrian peace at a hotel in Astana, Kazakhstan, January 23, 2017. (Photo by AP)

The US ambassador to Astana will also be joining the discussions as an observer at the host country’s invitation.

The talks will be followed with further UN-monitored negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva on February 8.

Meanwhile, an opposition spokesman has said that the participating groups will only discuss consolidating the ceasefire as well as humanitarian issues, and will not enter a political dialogue.

Last week, President Bashar al-Assad also said the Astana talks would focus on enforcing a cessation of hostilities across Syria.

‘Up to Syrians to decide own fate’

Addressing the opening of the meeting, Jaber Ansari thanked Kazakhstan for hosting the talks, which he said, should ultimately seek to irreversibly end the confrontations in Syria.

He highlighted the sufferings of war-stricken Syrians, many of whom have been displaced internally and externally, adding that people in some parts the capital, Damascus, have no access to drinking water.

The senior Iranian diplomat slammed warfare as “the most reprehensible representation of conflict of ideas and interests,” stressing the Syrian nation’s right to self-determination and sovereignty.

Syrians are entitled to decide their own fate free from foreign meddling, said Jaberi Ansari, adding that the parties which seek to prolong the crisis in line with their personal interests are preventing the Arab nation from exercising their rights.

The deputy foreign minister urged that the international community to help stop the “illegal” flow of arms, funds and militants into Syria.

He also called for efforts to confront the Takfiri Daesh and al-Nusra Front terror groups, which have been excluded from the ceasefire currently holding across Syria.

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