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Astana peace talks bring Syrian foes together

Mohammad Alloush (C), the head of the Syrian opposition delegation, at Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on 23 January Reuters/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov

Syrian rebels said Monday they would keep fighting if peace talks in Kazakhstan fail. The talks aim to kickstart direct negotiations between armed rebel groups and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

The talks are being taken especially seriously in Damascus as they are not sponsored by the US but include two of Syria’s allies, Russia and Iran.

“Today it is a little bit different from other meetings, like Geneva,” says Maria Saadeh, an independent member of the Syrian parliament. “Because it is not about a political solution but about a military solution. So the aim of the dialogue in Astana is a debate on the ceasefire.”

The main difference is that this conference is cosponsored by Turkey. For a long time Turkey demanded that Syrian president Bashar al-Assad step down as a precondition for talks but it has changed its position.

Turkey and Syrian Kurds

“The American decision to cooperate with the Kurds in northern Syria and use them as their proxies to fight Isis [the Islamic State armed group],” says Iltar Turan, a political scientist with Bilgi Univeristy.

“Turkey is very much against that. So in order to prevent the American-Kurdish alliance from gaining even more power it decided that it would cooperate with the Russians and the Iranians and not to have the Syrian Kurds as a major actor at the negotiating table as a proxy for America."

Syrian exiles angry

Meanwhile, Syrian politicians in exile are not happy with the talks.

“Syrians are now absent,” said one member of a Syrian opposition group, who did not want to be mentioned by name. "They don't have any role. They come only to sign what others decide. Sergei Lavrov yesterday, Iran, Turkey and Russia today.

“We are in the hands of a tragedy. Our revolution was really stolen by Western and Gulf countries. The Emir of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, they will not give you a democratic secular front against the regime. They give you this anarchy."

We are in the hands of a tragedy. Our revolution was stolen by Western and Gulf countries.
Syria talks in Astana 23/01/2017 - by Jan van der Made Listen

Others think that these Syrian exiles are dreamers, far away from the facts on the ground in Syria.

“These exiled Syrians were those people for whom the only solution was that Bashar al-Assad has to go,” says Professor Günter Meyer of the University of Mainz. “They want to take over control.”

But, he explains, that would inevitably lead to the strongest military powers of the anti-Assad movement, meaning that hardline Islamists in the al-Nusra Front and IS, which are supported by Saudi Arabia and Qatar, would take over the government in Syria.

“And this is something which cannot be within the interest of the Syrian population, which cannot be in the interest of the complete Middle East,” he says.