The 11th round of Syria peace talks started yesterday with a meeting between Syria's Bashar Assad regime and representatives of the regime's main backer - Russia - in Astana, the Kazakh capital.
Prior to the meeting, Alexander Lavrentiev, the Russian president's special envoy for Syria, told reporters that the establishment of a constitutional committee for a new constitution, the cease-fire in Syria's northwestern province of Idlib, the problems of refugees and the fight against terrorism will be discussed.
A meeting of the Astana Working Group, established for the release of prisoners, is also expected. The meeting will evaluate a pilot project that saw the mutual and simultaneous release of Syrian detainees both from the Bashar Assad regime and opposition sides on Saturday. The project - the Release of Detainees/Abductees, Handover of Bodies and Identification of Missing Persons - was established as part of the Astana process with the participation of Turkey, Russia and Iran, the three guarantor countries, and the U.N., according to the Turkish Foreign Ministry.
On Tuesday, the U.N. said its outgoing Syria envoy Staffan De Mistura will meet with top officials from the guarantor countries to establish a committee to write a new constitution for the war-torn country. Earlier yesterday, Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry announced the arrival of all parties in Astana.
Heading the group on behalf of the main Syrian opposition, Ahmed Tuma, the former premier of the Syrian interim government, will stress the lack of sustainable environment for the repatriation of Syrian refugees and reconstruction of the country, as well as the ongoing regime's detentions in talks with the U.N. and Russia, according to opposition sources.
The Turkish delegation, represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedal Önal, is expected to meet with the opposition group and Russian and Iranian representatives. The guarantor countries were expected to meet yesterday ahead of today's main session where all sides will meet and where a final declaration will be read. Iran is represented by Assistant Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hussein Gabri Ansari, while Alexander Lavrentiev represents Russia. The Syrian regime is represented by Bashar Jaafari, the regime's permanent representative to the UN. The main session of the meeting is expected to be held today with the release of a declaration afterwards.
Russia, Iran, and Turkey launched the Astana peace process in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to find a political solution - the process is complementary to the U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva. The main result of the Astana talks was the establishment of de-escalation zones in the northern province of Idlib and parts of neighboring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.
The partial cease-fire, however, was short-lived with violence escalating dramatically. Regime forces backed by Russia and Iran reconquered three of the zones through heavy bombardment, leaving Idlib as the last bastion of the opposition groups with dozens of civilians fleeing from war-torn areas squeezed into the city. The conflict in Syria began in 2011 when the Bashar Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators with unexpected ferocity.