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First day of Syrian peace talks end without breakthrough

ASTANA: A first day of indirect talks between Syrian rebels and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana ended on Monday without any apparent breakthrough, sources said.

“Our delegation’s meetings are over for today,” a source close to the regime said after rebel spokesman Yehya al-Aridi told reporters the opposition’s meetings were also done for the day. Syrian rebels vowed to keep fighting if peace negotiations with the government of President Bashar al-Assad fail, as talks between the two sides in Kazakhstan got off to a rocky start.

The meeting in Astana, backed by key players Russia, Turkey and Iran, had been billed as the first time armed rebel groups would negotiate directly with the Assad regime since the conflict erupted in 2011.

But the rebels backed out of the first round of direct talks because of the regime’s continued bombardment and attacks on a flashpoint area near Damascus.

However, they took part in indirect talks with the government and held a three-way meeting with Russia, Turkey and the United Nations.

“If the negotiations succeed, then we are with the negotiations,” rebel spokesman Osama Abu Zeid said. “If they don’t succeed, unfortunately we’ll have no choice but to continue fighting.” The rebels’ announcement came as Russia’s defence ministry said its warplanes had bombed the militant Islamic State group in the area around Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria, where regime forces have been fighting the jihadists.

A member of the rebel delegation said that the group would agree to seeing Russia as a guarantor of the truce but not Iran, another Assad backer.

The negotiations in the Kazakh capital come amid a rapprochement between regime ally Russia and rebel backer Turkey, who together brokered the current truce in December after months of US disengagement in the conflict.

Several rounds of failed talks in Geneva saw political opposition figures take the lead in negotiating with the regime.

But in Astana, the 14-member opposition delegation is composed solely of rebels leading the armed uprising, with members of the political opposition serving as advisors.

The initiative has been widely welcomed, but the two sides arrived in Astana with apparently divergent ideas on their aim.

Chief rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush said in his opening statement that the opposition was focused on bolstering the nationwide truce, while Assad has insisted rebels lay down their arms in exchange for an amnesty deal.

“We came here to reinforce the ceasefire as the first phase of this process,” Alloush said in comments broadcast online. “We will not proceed to the next phases until this actually happens on the ground.” Damascus has also called for a “comprehensive” political solution to a conflict that has killed more than 310,000 and displaced more than half of Syria’s population.

Courtesy : Dawn News

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