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11th round of talks on Syria crisis begins in Astana

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
The photo shows a general view of the plenary session of the ninth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, May 15, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The 11th round of talks on the Syria crisis has kicked off in the Kazakh capital, with the presence of representatives from the Damascus government and opposition as well as the three guarantor states of the Astana peace process.

The discussions, which began on Wednesday, will mainly focus on the situation in the de-escalation zone set up in Syria’s northwestern Idlib Province and the creation of a constitutional committee in the war-torn country.

Moreover, issues such as confidence-building measures between Syria’s opposite sides, fight against terrorist outfits and the return of Syrian refugees to their homes would be raised during the two-day negotiations.

In addition to representatives from the Syrian government and opposition groups, delegations from Iran, Russia and Turkey, which are acting as the guarantors of an all-Syria ceasefire, as well as international observers - the UN and Jordan - will attend the talks.

The Astana talks have so far resulted in the return of a succession of militant bastions to the government fold, the establishment of safe zones across Syria and the movement of civilians to those regions.

The Syrian government’s delegation, headed by the country’s UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari, arrived in the Kazakh capital on Tuesday for the Astana negotiations.

Hossein Jaberi Ansari, senior assistant to the Iranian foreign minister on special political affairs, Russian Special Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal will also lead the delegations of the guarantor states to the talks.

Heydar Beck Tomatov, director of Asia and Africa department at the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, said in a statement that bilateral and tripartite consultations will be held in the first day of the Astana meeting and that the second day will feature the general session.

The photo released by Syria's official SANA news agency shows Hossein Jaberi Ansari (2nd-R), senior assistant to the Iranian foreign minister on special political affairs, holding talks with Syria's UN Ambassador Bashar al-Ja'afari (2nd-L) in Astana, Kazakhstan, November 271, 2018.

Kazakh Foreign Ministry spokesman Aybek Smadiyarov also said journalists from more than 200 media outlets had been accredited to cover the event.

The 10th round of talks in the Astana format took place in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi on July 30-31.

A Tuesday UN statement said Staffan de Mistura, the international body's special envoy for Syria, will join the 11th round of the Astana talks.

“The Special Envoy, in consultation with the Secretary-General, accepted to be in Astana where, within the framework of the Geneva process and in accordance with Security Council resolution 2254 (2015), he will chair a meeting with senior representatives of Iran, Russia and Turkey in their capacity as the conveners of the Sochi meeting of January 2018,” read the statement.

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