New As­tana talks to cen­ter on cease-fire, de-es­ca­la­tion zones

The As­tana talks be­gan their sev­enth round yes­ter­day with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of Tur­key, Iran and Rus­sia, aim­ing to strengthen the cease-fire

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page -

THE SEV­ENTH round of peace talks to end the Syr­ian civil war be­gan yes­ter­day in As­tana, Kazakhstan, with fo­cus on the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the cease-fire and deesca­la­tion zones. The talks, which will cen­ter on strength­en­ing the cease-fire that came into ef­fect on Dec. 30, are bro­kered by Tur­key, which backs the op­po­si­tion, and Rus­sia and Iran, which sup­port Bashar As­sad. The two-day meet­ing will also ad­dress the re­lease of cap­tives and hostages and hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tion on land mines.

THE TURK­ISH del­e­ga­tion will be chaired by Deputy For­eign Un­der­sec­re­tary Se­dat Önal, while Spe­cial En­voy for Syria Alexander Lavren­tiev will lead the Rus­sian team, and Deputy For­eign Min­is­ter Hos­sein Jaberi An­sari will head Iran’s del­e­ga­tion.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the Syr­ian regime, armed op­po­si­tion groups, as well as del­e­ga­tions from the U.N., Jor­dan, and U.S. will at­tend the talks. Mon­day’s bi­lat­eral and mul­ti­lat­eral talks will be be­hind closed doors and a ple­nary meet­ing is sched­uled for to­day.

Dur­ing the talks, par­tic­i­pants will also dis­cuss ex­pand­ing the num­ber of ob­server states in the As­tana process to in­clude such states as Iraq and China. Rus­sian For­eign Min­is­ter Sergey Lavrov pre­vi­ously said he be­lieves that it would be “use­ful” to ex­pand the num­ber of ob­server coun­tries.

Mean­while, Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion head Lavren­tyev stressed that es­tab­lish­ment of a de-es­ca­la­tion zone in Idlib was a “very im­por­tant de­ci­sion.”

“There is a pretty high level of ten­sion there, and there is still a threat of of­fen­sives by rad­i­cal groups de­ployed there,” Lavren­tyev said.

He added that Rus­sia hopes Tur­key would “in the end ful­fill their part of the obli­ga­tions con­cern­ing the Idlib de-es­ca­la­tion zone and will sta­bi­lize the sit­u­a­tion there.”

Ac­cord­ing to Syr­ian op­po­si­tion sources, a del­e­ga­tion headed by Ah­met Barri, a Free Syr­ian Army (FSA) com­man­der, will present four doc­u­ments to the U.N. about vi­o­la­tions of the cease-fire, the sit­u­a­tions of hostages, mas­sacres by the As­sad regime and the re­shap­ing of Syria’s eth­nic makeup by Iran and the ter­ror­ist Demo­cratic Union Party (PYD).

Also, the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion wants Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards and Shi­ite mili­tias to leave the coun­try, an armed op­po­si­tion leader said yes­ter­day.

Fatih Has­sun told Anadolu Agency (AA): “We want Iran’s Revo­lu­tion­ary Guards and Shi­ite mili­tias to get out of the coun­try. Also, we want sep­a­ratist Kur­dish groups to stand trial for their crimes. We will bring this to the at­ten­tion of the U.N.”

The Rus­sian del­e­ga­tion will raise the is­sue of es­tab­lish­ing a “na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mit­tee” among Syr­i­ans.

Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous meet­ing in Septem­ber, the par­ties in As­tana agreed to the bound­aries of the fi­nal de-es­ca­la­tion zone in the north­ern prov­ince of Idlib. In a joint state­ment af­ter two days of talks in Kazakhstan last month, Ankara, Tehran and Moscow said they agreed “to al­lo­cate” their forces to pa­trol the zone cov­er­ing op­po­si­tion-held Idlib prov­ince and parts of the neigh­bor­ing Latakia, Hama and Aleppo re­gions. It said that the zones will be formed for a six-month pe­riod and will be ex­tended if nec­es­sary.

Tur­key, Iran and Rus­sia will send 500 ob­servers each to Idlib to mon­i­tor the de-es­ca­la­tion deal, and Rus­sians will be mil­i­tary po­lice, the Rus­sian ne­go­tia­tor said.

In a sep­a­rate state­ment re­leased by the Turk­ish For­eign Min­istry, a plan to es­tab­lish a cen­ter for co­or­di­na­tion was also an­nounced.

More­over, the Turk­ish Armed Forces (TSK) launched a cross-bor­der op­er­a­tion in the Idlib re­gion this month, tak­ing a step to­ward de-es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions in the area.

At the fourth meet­ing in the Kazakh cap­i­tal on May 4, the three guar­an­tor coun­tries first signed a deal to es­tab­lish the zones.

Ankara places great em­pha­sis on the As­tana talks in putting an end to the six-year tragedy. Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan said in early Septem­ber that steps taken to­ward es­tab­lish­ing peace in Syria would hope­fully be fi­nal­ized in As­tana. Syria has been locked in a vi­cious civil war since 2011, when the As­sad regime cracked down on pro-democ­racy protests with un­ex­pected fe­roc­ity. Since then, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have been killed in the con­flict, ac­cord­ing to the U.N.

Dur­ing the pre­vi­ous meet­ing in Septem­ber, the par­ties in As­tana agreed to the bound­aries of the fi­nal de-es­ca­la­tion zone in the north­ern prov­ince of Idlib.

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