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Astana Talks on Halt after Moscow Failing to Deliver on Safe Zones Promises | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush (L) of the so-called Jaish al-Islam and a member of the rebel delegation Osama Abu Zeid (R) leave following the second session of Syria peace talks at the Rixos President Hotel in Astana, Kazakhstan, February 16, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Moscow, Beirut – Tense caution dominated early hours of the Astana 4 negotiations on Wednesday. Expectations encompassed both positive and negative outcomes from the attempt at brokering peace in Syria.

The Russian delegation was chiefly the optimistic party saying that a breakthrough could be achieved in this round.

On the other hand, Syrian delegations representing rebels trying to overthrow Bashar al-Assad suspended their participation in the protesting against the continued regime bombing in Syria.

“We came to Astana under promises of a comprehensive cessation of hostilities in Syria as soon as negotiations launched—later would come efforts on reaching a political transition—similar to former undertakings, nothing happened,” a rebel delegate on behalf the Free Syrian Army FSA told Ahsarq Al-Awsat.

“We met with the Kazakh foreign minister. At the same time, meetings with the UN delegation, the UN Special Envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura and Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Affairs Bureau Stuart E. Jones were scheduled,” the FSA representative said.

“As soon as the opposition delegation received news about ongoing regime shelling, we decided to suspend participation until former undertakings are truly completed. Rebels refused all attempts to return to the talks executive steps are taken” the FSA sources said.

For his part, member of the rebel delegation Osama Abu Zeid said that delegates had exited negotiations due to the lack of clarity on whether battles in rural Homs and Daraa would be put to an end.

Zeid stressed that participation of the delegation will remain on halt until cessation of hostilities is realized as well as a better defined agenda for the negotiations is put forth.

“On a moral level we cannot sit at the negotiations, while the (regime) bombardment of the Syrian people continues,” rebel representative at Astana, Yasser Arafat Farhan told Asharq Al-Awsat.

“We presented what we can and are waiting for an answer,” he added.

Russia’s failed proposal calls for the creation of “de-escalation zones” in rebel-held territory in the northwestern province of Idlib, in parts of Homs province in the center, in the south, and in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.

The aim is to “put an immediate end to the violence” and “provide the conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees”.

The designated zones would also see the immediate delivery of relief supplies and medical assistance.

A senior official from Kazakhstan’s Foreign Ministry told reporters he expected Syrian opposition figures to return to the talks on Thursday. Another diplomat close to the talks also said the rebels were not walking out completely.

“I hope that tomorrow the opposition will again take part (in the talks),” Aidarbek Tumatov, a department chief at the ministry, told reporters in Astana.

“The delegation has suspended its participation after presenting a memorandum for a total commitment to stopping (government) bombardments,” Ahmad Ramadan, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC), said.

In the memorandum, the rebels demanded “clear implementation procedures” for matters such as enforcing a ceasefire, withdrawal of government forces from areas taken by them since Dec. 30 last year, and release of detainees.

They also again insisted on Assad’s departure and objected once again to Iran’s role in the process, describing it as an “aggressor state”. Iran, along with Russia, are Assad’s main supporters against rebels trying to topple him.

In a phone call on Tuesday, United States President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin sought to defuse tension arising from US air strikes on Syrian regime forces in April, expressing a wish for a ceasefire and safe zones for the civil war’s refugees.