Astana hosts eighth round of talks on Syria's war

Sides are expected to discuss the functioning of 'de-escalation zones' as deadly violence continues to rage.

    Civilians carry a body in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus in early December [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]
    Civilians carry a body in Eastern Ghouta near Damascus in early December [Bassam Khabieh/Reuters]

    Delegations from the Syrian government and some opposition groups are arriving in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, for talks spearheaded by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.

    "Delegations of the guarantor countries of the cessation of hostilities in Syria are arriving in Astana to participate in the next round of talks," the Kazakh foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.

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    The meetings, which start on Thursday and end Friday, come as violence continues in the war-torn country.

    Air raids reportedly killed 19 people - including seven children - in the rebel stronghold of Idlib province overnight Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

    The province bordering Turkey is part of Russian-brokered "de-escalation" agreements aiming to shore up ceasefires in parts of western Syria.

    The eighth round of the Astana talks is expected to address the functioning of de-escalation zones.

    The focus will also be on the release of detainees, transfer of bodies, and search for the missing, the Kazakh foreign ministry said in a statement earlier this month.

    Several de-escalation zones were agreed to in mainly opposition-held areas of the country during previous meetings, with Russia, Turkey, and Iran acting as guarantors.

    Failed Geneva talks

    The talks in Astana will take place a week after a separate UN-backed conference on the future of Syria gathered in the Swiss city of Geneva, but failed to break the deadlock between the opposition and the Syrian government.

    Fighting rages on in the nearly seven-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of Syrians and displaced millions of others.

    In Eastern Ghouta - on the outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus - hundreds of thousands of people remain trapped under government bombardment.

    The UK-based Syrian Observatory said more than 200 civilians, including many children, have been killed in air raids on Eastern Ghouta since mid-November.

    "The humanitarian situation in Eastern Ghouta has reached a critical point," said Robert Mardini, Middle East director of the International Committee of the Red Cross, in a statement on Tuesday. 

    "As so often in Syria over the last six years, ordinary people are once again trapped in a situation where life slowly becomes impossible, and where goods and aid are severely limited."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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