Syrian rebel groups said Monday they will attend peace talks next week, in a boost to efforts by rivals Turkey and Russia to put an end to the nearly six-year-old conflict as rebel negotiator Mohammed Alloush confirmed he would head the delegation to the meeting.
The talks, beginning on January 23 in the Kazakh capital Astana, are set to build on a nationwide truce that has largely held despite escalating violence across several battlefronts in recent days.
The meetings are the latest bid to put an end to the internecine war raging in Syria since March 2011.
The powers have backed opposing sides of Syria’s conflict for years but have worked unprecedentedly closely in recent weeks to end the bloodshed.
If the Astana meetings are successful, they could augur well for fresh U.N.-hosted negotiations on the conflict next month in Geneva.
“All the rebel groups are going (to Astana). Everyone has agreed,” said Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group.
“Astana is a process to end the bloodletting by the regime and its allies. We want to end this series of crimes,” said Alloush, a former senior negotiator with the Higher Negotiations Committee .
Ahmad al-Othman from the Sultan Murad faction also told AFP that “the rebel groups have decided to go to the talks.”
Sources from the opposition and the regime said the talks would “probably” be face-to-face.
Several rounds of peace talks held by the United Nations have failed to produce a political solution to the conflict.
The Astana talks will assume a different approach, focusing strictly on military developments ahead of political discussions in Switzerland in February, opposition figures told AFP.
Ahmed Ramadan, from the leading National Coalition opposition group, said the Astana talks would aim to reinforce the truce “while the details of the political process will be left to Geneva.”
“Despite all the truce violations, what pushed us to agree to attend was the fact that the agenda will be focused on the ceasefire only,” said Osama Abu Zeid, a legal adviser to rebel groups.
The opposition’s delegation to Astana “will be only military,” but would be consulting with “a team of legal and political advisers” from the HNC, he said.
The HNC is the main umbrella group for Syria’s opposition factions, negotiating on their behalf last year in Geneva.
Abu Zeid said the Fateh al-Sham Front, which changed its name from Al-Nusra Front after breaking away from Al-Qaeda, would not attend Astana.
U.S. President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has been invited to take part, but has not yet officially responded.