Syria Crisis: Rebels to take part in Astana’s peace talks

Syria Crisis: Rebels to take part in Astana's peace talks

Some armed Syrian opposition groups have decided to attend Syria peace talks, which is backed by Russia and Turkey, with the Assad regime in Kazakhstan next week after they have previously declared freezing their participation due to breaches by Assad regime and its allied militias.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said that that Syrian opposition groups and the Syrian government had signed a number of documents including a ceasefire deal that will be guaranteed by Turkey and Russia.

The documents include a ceasefire agreement between the Syrian government and the opposition, measures to monitor the ceasefire deal and a statement on the readiness to start peace talks to settle the Syrian crisis, Putin said.

Moscow has said they would take place in Kazakhstan.

The truce, which is the third announced this year, came into effect on 29 December 2016 and followed the evacuation of Aleppo and the city’s surrender to forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. It covers all areas of the country except those under Islamic State control.

Freezing of the participation

Putin said the agreement was fragile and requires observations due to many previous failed ones.

“The agreements reached are, no doubt, very fragile and they demand special attention and follow-up in order to keep them and develop them. Nevertheless, this is a notable result of our joint work, efforts by the defense and foreign ministries, our partners in the regions,” Putin said.

However, Putin didn’t do any effort to make this agreement successful, as clashes and airstrikes persisted in some areas since the ceasefire began.

In a statement, the rebel groups said on January 3 that they are freezing their participation in the peace talks due to the repeated violations of the truce by Assad regime and its allied militias.

They also said that any territorial advances by the army and Iran-backed militias that are fighting alongside it would end the fragile ceasefire.

The statement said the main violations were in an area northwest of Damascus in the rebel-held Wadi Barada valley, where government forces and the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group have been trying to press advances in an ongoing campaign.

The groups suspending their participation included the Free Syrian Army, one of the biggest coalitions fighting against Assad regime, and the Army of Conquest, another coalition of anti-government groups.

Taking part in Astana’s peace talks

However, Syrian rebels groups said later they will take part in the upcoming talks. Analysts believe the rebels have been under pressure from Turkey, one of their main sponsors, to attend.

Assad has already said his government is ready to attend the talks. Assad regime now holds the winning cards and most of the pressure points in Syria, as the rebel-held areas have shrunk greatly after Russian intervention.

The rebels took the decision at meetings underway in Ankara, and are now working to form a delegation that will be headed by Mohammad Alloush, the head of the political office of Jaish al-Islam rebel group, Alloush said. He said the rebels were going to Astana to “neutralize the criminal role” of Iran.

“All the rebel groups are going [to Astana]. Everyone has agreed,” Alloush told AFP news agency.

“Astana is a process to end the bloodletting by the regime and its allies. We want to end this series of crimes.”

The High Negotiations Committee, Syria’s main opposition bloc, had also said previously that it would extend its support to an anti-government military delegation attending the talks.

The HNC issued a statement on Saturday stressing its “support for the military delegation” traveling to Kazakhstan and expressing its “hope that this meeting will reinforce the truce”.

It added that it considered the Astana meeting a “preliminary step for the next round” of negotiations on a political settlement in Geneva.

Rebel officials also assured their intention to take part in the talks.

“The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the ceasefire and the violations by the regime,” said an official in a Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group who declined to be identified because the groups had yet to appoint a spokesman. “This will be a test for the Russians as the guarantor,” he said.

A second official, Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group, said: “The majority of the groups decided to attend. Discussions will be on the ceasefire – the humanitarian issues – aid deliveries, the release of detainees.”

The rebel groups would reject any discussion of broader political issues at the Astana talks, the rebel officials said.

However, Shaam Network, an opposition news website, reported on Monday that a number of other rebel groups, including Ahrar al-Sham, one of the main fighting forces on the ground, had decided to stay away from the upcoming talks.

“At this point in time, six years into this war, the different brigades still cannot speak with one voice when it comes to Syria,” an analyst said.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.