Syria opposition leaves peace talks in Astana

Indo Asian News Service

Damascus, May 3 (IANS) The opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) said on Wednesday it is halting its participation in the latest round of the peace talks, being held in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

SNC spokesman Ahmad Ramadan said that the opposition "delegation is suspending the meetings" over alleged airstrikes on civilians.

"The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria," he said.

The move came hours after the fourth round of the talks, mediated by Iran, Russia and Turkey, began with a series of bilateral meetings in the Kazakh capital earlier in the day, Press TV reported.

Reacting to the development, Aidarbek Tumatov, a senior Kazakh Foreign Ministry official, said he expected that the Syria opposition would return to the negotiating table on Thursday.

"I hope that tomorrow the opposition will again take part (in the talks)," Tumatov said.

The Astana discussions were set to focus on a Russian plan to resolve the Syria crisis that began in March 2011.

The Russian plan calls for the creation of "de-escalation zones" in militant-held areas in the Syrian provinces of Idlib and Homs as well as the Eastern Ghouta region near the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Three countries are called the guarantor states, with Russia and Iran on the side of the Syria government, while Turkey on the side of the rebels, reported Russian media outlets on details of the proposal.

The plan emphasises the necessity to create conditions to drive out the Islamic State (IS) and the Al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front from de-escalation zones with the help of the Syrian opposition.

The guarantor states would have to create conditions in de-escalation zones, in which the warring sides would allow a safe return of refugees and internally displaced persons, according to the leaked document.

The plan also reportedly tasks the guarantor states with setting up a joint working group to draft maps of the safe zones by May 22 and monitoring a process of "disarmament".

The Kazakh Foreign Ministry official confirmed that the delegations were discussing a proposal for safe zones in Syria.

"If the guarantor countries agree and sign the document, then accordingly Damascus and the opposition will be obliged to fulfill it," the official told the Interfax news agency.

The first round of the Astana talks between Syria's warring sides took place on January 23-24, followed by the second round on February 15-16 and the third round on March 14-15.