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Syria: Astana peace talks delayed due to 'technical reasons'

Damascus has confirmed it will be represented again by Bashar al-Jaafari [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 15 February, 2017

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A new round of talks on the Syria conflict scheduled to begin on 15 February in Astana has been delayed by one day due to unexplained "technical reasons", Kazakhstan said.

Kazakhstan said on Wednesday a new round of Astana talks on the Syria conflict led by Russia, Turkey and Iran scheduled to begin 15 February would be delayed by a day due to unexplained "technical reasons".

"The negotiations have been moved to February 16 for technical reasons," a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told AFP by telephone without elaboration. 

A subsequent statement from the foreign ministry said the talks would begin at 0600 GMT on Thursday. 

The "closed format" negotiations come after representatives from Damascus and the armed opposition failed to make a breakthrough at indirect talks in the city in January.  

The meeting - pushed by key regime supporter Moscow - is viewed as a warm-up for UN-led negotiations on the protracted war that are due to begin in Geneva on 23 February.

On Tuesday, a rebel source told The New Arab that armed rebel groups received last-minute invitations to take part in the Astana talks, days after other rebel sources denied receiving any invitation.

"The opposition factions that took part in the [first] Astana negotiations have been invited to the talks taking place in the Kazakh capital over the next two days," said Liwa Shuhada al-Islam representative Said Naqrash.

"The [armed] factions have chosen a delegation of five people headed by Free Syrian Army Chief of Staff, brigadier general Ahmed Berry," Naqrash told The New Arab.

Meanwhile, Kazakh officials said they invited both the Syrian government and rebels for the new talks.

Damascus has confirmed it will be represented again by its ambassador to the UN, Bashar al-Jaafari. 

Russia is sending presidential envoy Alexander Lavrentiev while Iran said it is dispatching deputy foreign minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari.

UN envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura said he would not participate personally in the latest Astana meeting but that his office would be represented by a "technical team". 

Jordan will also be represented by a "high level delegation" government spokesperson Mohamed Momani said.

The latest round of talks follows a preliminary meeting last month that ended without a breakthrough in the nearly six-year conflict, in which more than 310,000 people have died.

The latest round of talks follows a preliminary meeting last month that ended without a breakthrough in the nearly six-year conflict, in which more than 310,000 people have died.

Moscow has invited the US to participate as an observer but the State Department has yet to confirm Washington will be involved. 

Talks are likely to focus on bolstering a shaky ceasefire on the ground after Moscow, Tehran and Ankara agreed to establish a "mechanism" aimed at ensuring the truce. 

The Geneva negotiations are expected to be wider-ranging, focussing on the key issues that divide the government and rebel sides, including the fate of President Bashar al-Assad. 

Russia and Iran have helped turn the tables on the ground with their military backing for Assad, while Turkey has supported rebels fighting to oust the strongman.

The Syrian conflict began when the Baath regime, in power since 1963 and led by President Bashar al-Assad, responded with military force to peaceful protests demanding democratic reforms during the Arab Spring wave of uprisings, triggering an armed rebellion fuelled by mass defections from the Syrian army.

According to independent monitors, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been killed in the war, mostly by the regime and its powerful allies, and millions have been displaced both inside and outside of Syria. 

The brutal tactics pursued mainly by the regime, which have included the use of chemical weapons, sieges, mass executions and torture against civilians have led to war crimes investigations.

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