Author: BBC news
Posted: 23 January 2017
Fresh peace talks aimed at resolving the Syrian conflict are due to begin in the Kazakhstan capital, Astana.
The talks are brokered by Russia and Iran, which back the Syrian government, and Turkey which supports the rebels.
They are the first negotiations since UN-backed talks in Geneva were suspended early last year.
Major rebel groups are represented but militants including so-called Islamic State (IS) are excluded.
More than 300,000 people have been killed and 11 million displaced in almost six years of conflict.
UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura is attending the talks and the US is being represented by its ambassador to Kazakhstan.
Russia’s main negotiator, Alexander Lavrentyev, said on Sunday it was unclear if the representatives of the warring parties would meet face-to-face or communicate using intermediaries.
Organisers have played down expectations of a breakthrough and Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry says it expects the talks to be finished by Tuesday.
The new equation, by BBC chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet
“Everything has changed since Aleppo,” says a Western diplomat who’s been engaged on Syria for the past several years. “There’s a new equation.”
The opposition’s stinging defeat in Aleppo in December robbed them of their last major urban stronghold to challenge President Bashar al-Assad’s rule.
And there was another game-changer. Behind the scenes, in the Turkish capital Ankara, a new Russian-Turkish alliance forged a deal to end the final fight for Syria’s second city.
Now two unlikely allies, who have always backed different sides in this war, are hoping to redraw Syria’s geo-political map.
Bashar al-Jaafari, who heads the Syrian government delegation, said the agenda would focus on strengthening a ceasefire that has largely held since last month.
“This would be a test of the credibility and seriousness of the participants, whether those who will be sitting at the discussion table or their operators,” he said, quoted by state media.
Russia and Turkey brokered the ceasefire on 30 December. It excludes IS and also the jihadist group Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, known as al-Nusra Front until it broke off formal ties with al-Qaeda in July.
Last week, a leader of the rebel group Jaysh al-Islam, Mohammed Alloush, said he would go to Astana to end the “crimes” of the government and its allies.
“Astana is a process to end the bloodletting by the regime and its allies. We want to end this series of crimes,” he added.
An official with the Free Syrian Army, which includes a number of Western-backed rebel groups, said they aimed to discuss the ceasefire “and the violations by the regime”.
The main umbrella group representing Syria’s political and armed opposition factions, the High Negotiations Committee, says it considers the Astana talks a “preliminary step for the next round” of negotiations on a political settlement in Geneva.
The Syrian conflict began with anti-government protests before escalating into a full-scale civil war.