Syrian rebels to attend Astana talks, rebel officials say

Syrian rebels to attend Astana talks, rebel officials say

Syrian rebels to attend Astana talks, rebel officials say

AFP photo

Syrian rebel groups have decided to attend peace talks backed by Russia and Turkey in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana to press for the implementation of a widely violated cease-fire, rebel officials said on Jan. 16, Reuters has reported. 

Rebel groups took the decision at meetings that are underway in Ankara, and are now working to form a delegation that will be different to one sent to peace talks in Geneva last year by a Saudi-backed opposition group. 

“The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the cease-fire and the violations by the regime,” Reuters quoted an official in a Free Syrian Army rebel group, who declined to be identified because the rebel groups had yet to appoint a spokesman, as saying on Jan. 16. 

A second official, Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group, said that the majority of the groups decided to attend. “Discussions will be on the cease-fire - the humanitarian issues - aid deliveries, release of detainees,” he said.  

“All the rebel groups are going. Everyone has agreed,” Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group told AFP.  

Ahmad al-Othman from the Sultan Murad faction also told AFP that “the rebel groups have decided to go to the talks.”

On Jan. 3, a dozen Syrian rebel factions had suspended talks on new peace negotiations in Astana, accusing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime of violating the cease-fire with attacks near Damascus.

“As these violations are continuing, the rebel factions announce... the freezing of all discussion linked to the Astana negotiations,” the Syrian opposition groups said, according to AFP.

Rebel groups’ decision to attend Astana talks came two days after the political representative committee for the Syrian opposition announced that it would support the Syrian peace summit in Astana set to take place on Jan. 23.      

According to a written statement released on Jan. 14 after a two-day meeting in Riyadh, the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) voiced its “readiness to support the military delegation to be formed by the opposition to attend the talks” and expressed “hope that the meeting would reinforce the truce,” according to state-run Anadolu Agency. 

The group also said Astana “paves the way for political talks” in Geneva on Feb. 8, expressing gratitude for the countries that have exerted efforts for the Astana meeting. 

The peace talks set for Feb. 8 in Geneva are organized by the United Nations, under the auspices of U.N. Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, and are thought to be the continuation of last year’s Geneva talks. 

Following last month’s Syria cease-fire deal, the Astana meeting comes as part of ongoing efforts by Turkey and Russia to promote a political solution in war-torn Syria.      

Kerry urges Trump administration to attend Syria peace talks

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Jan. 17 urged the incoming Trump administration to accept an invitation from Russia to attend the Syria peace talks next week.

Speaking to reporters after a Mideast peace conference in Paris, Kerry said he supports the meeting that Russia, Turkey and Iran are co-sponsoring in Kazakhstan and that it “would be good” for the U.S. to be represented there.

“My hope is the next administration will decide to go,” The Associated Press quoted Kerry as saying. “I think it would be good for them to go.”

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team said they had been invited to take part in the Astana peace talks on Syria, presenting a thorny first foreign policy dilemma for the new administration.

“We have been asked to attend,” Trump’s spokesman Sean Spicer told AFP on Jan. 14, suggesting no RSVP had been given.