Fifth round of Syria talks begins in Kazakhstan

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Astana, July 4 (IANS) The fifth round of Syria peace talks began on Tuesday amid tight security measures in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.

According to the Kazakh Foreign Ministry, the talks began with a meeting of a working group comprised of experts from Russia, Iran and Turkey, the guarantor countries that signed the ceasefire declared in Syria on December 30, 2016, reports Efe news.

The aim of this fifth round of the Astana Process is to discuss the situation in the war-torn Arab nation and the agreements reached at previous meetings, including the implementation of four safety zones.

The four de-escalation zones were set up to protect civilians and lower tensions between rebel and government forces.

Nine representatives of the Syrian armed opposition are attending the talks in Astana.

Speaking in Moscow last week, Free Syrian Army representative Fateh Hassoun, warned that the ceasefire would fail and the de-escalation areas would become “combat zones” if Iranian troops were deployed there.

“If Russia wants the proposal to be effective, it must expel the Iranians from those areas, because there is a good chance that these territories would become combat zones against any Iranian military,” Hassoun said.

The fifth round was scheduled for June 12-13 but it was postponed by the guarantor states which wanted more time to research the details of the proposed safe zones.

The talks, slated for Tuesday and Wednesday, are taking place in the wake of the downing on June 18 of a Syrian fighter by a US warplane and Washington’s decision to suspend cooperation with Russia in Syria.

During the day, a series of bilateral and working group meetings will be held in preparation for the plenary session scheduled for Wednesday.

–IANS

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