New Round of Negotiations on Syria to Kick Off in Astana

Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov and UN envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen (AFP)
Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov and UN envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen (AFP)
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New Round of Negotiations on Syria to Kick Off in Astana

Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov and UN envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen (AFP)
Russian Foreign Ministry Sergey Lavrov and UN envoy to Syria Geir Pedersen (AFP)

The parties involved in the Astana peace process talks on Syria will hold a new round of negotiations next week in the Kazakh capital, according to Syrian and Russian sources on Friday.
The initiative came from the UN envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, who conducted preliminary rounds of talks with the parties before announcing the date. However, Russia seemed less enthusiastic about this round.
On Thursday, Syrian newspaper al-Watan quoted diplomatic sources saying preparations have been completed to launch the 21st round of the talks, scheduled for Jan. 23 and 24.
The sources added that the Syrian government delegation will be headed by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates Bassam Sabbagh.
According to the newspaper, the latest Syrian developments were discussed during the talks that brought Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and Pedersen together on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Pedersen touched on Syria's political, security, and economic situation, discussing his initiatives and proposals for the crisis.
Last June, the previous round of talks in Astana focused on confidence-building measures, which included prisoner issues, improving conditions to facilitate the voluntary return of refugees, and the situation in areas not under the Syrian regime's control.
But the main focus was on the normalization efforts launched by Moscow between Turkiye and the Syrian government.
During the talks, the two parties failed to achieve breakthroughs, especially after the government delegation called for Turkish withdrawal from Syrian territory.
The three guarantor states, Russia, Türkiye, and Iran, stressed in a joint final statement the necessity of supporting the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of refugees to Syria.
They called on the international community to provide necessary assistance to facilitate the safe, dignified, and voluntary return of refugees to their places of residence in Syria and to ensure their right to return and be supported.
- Ending the process
Kazakhstan's withdrawal from the Astana talks after hosting 20 rounds since its launch in early 2017 was the most important and striking element of the former round.
At the time, the announcement raised speculation about ending the process, but the three guarantors announced their commitment to continue the talks without specifying a future date or location for future rounds.
Moscow activated its contacts with Astana following the last round, after which the Kazakh side retracted the announcement.
Russia did not officially announce the arrangements for the new round of negotiations.
A Russian diplomat told Asharq Al-Awsat that Moscow could only welcome any effort aimed at continuing to bring viewpoints closer, reduce tension, and revitalize communications between the parties.
The diplomat acknowledged that Moscow would have preferred not to rush to set a date for the new round of negotiations, especially amid the escalating tensions in Gaza and developments in the Red Sea.
He indicated that Moscow hoped the new round would be preceded by a good level of preparation, aiming to achieve progress."
However, the diplomat stressed that Russia could not oppose the effort made by the international envoy to Syria, which resulted in setting a date and location for this round.
Novosti news agency quoted the Syrian opposition delegation, headed by Ahmed Touma, as saying that the delegation plans to attend the new round of Astana talks after they received an invitation.
Touma confirmed to the Russian Agency his participation in the 21st round of negotiations, adding that their efforts will focus on resuming the work of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, resolving the issue of releasing detainees, and allowing the entrance of sufficient quantities of humanitarian aid.
The official said they'd also address stabilizing the ceasefire, resuming the political settlement process through the Constitutional Committee, and advancing humanitarian files to create a safe environment for a political settlement in Syria.



Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
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Israeli Tanks at Edge of Rafah's Mawasi Refuge Zone

A man walks across  fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024.  (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)
A man walks across fallen tents the day after a strike on the al-Mawasi area, northwest of the Palestinian city of Rafah on June 22, 2024. (Photo by Bashar TALEB / AFP)

Israeli tanks advanced to the edge of the Mawasi displaced persons' camp in the northwest of the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Sunday in fierce fighting with Hamas-led fighters, residents said.
Images of two Israeli tanks stationed on a hilltop overlooking the coastal area went viral on social media, but Reuters could not independently verify them.

"The fighting with the resistance has been intense. The occupation forces are overlooking the Mawasi area now, which forced families there to head for Khan Younis," said one resident, who asked not to be named, on a chat app.

More than eight months into Israel's war in the Hamas-administered Palestinian enclave, its advance is focused on the two areas its forces have yet to seize: Rafah on Gaza's southern tip and the area surrounding Deir al-Balah in the center.

Residents said Israeli tanks had pushed deeper into western and northern Rafah in recent days, blowing up dozens of houses.

The Israeli military said it was continuing "intelligence-based, targeted operations" in the Rafah area and had located weapons stores and tunnel shafts, and killed Palestinian gunmen.

The armed wings of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad movement said their fighters had attacked Israeli forces in Rafah with anti-tank rockets and mortar bombs and pre-planted explosive devices.

Elsewhere, an Israeli airstrike killed eight Palestinians in Sabra, a suburb of Gaza City in the north, and another strike killed two people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The military said it had struck dozens of targets throughout the Strip.

On Saturday, Palestinian health officials said at least 40 Palestinians had been killed in separate Israeli strikes in some northern Gaza districts, where the Israeli army said it had attacked Hamas's military infrastructure. Hamas said the targets were the civilian population.

In Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, health officials at Kamal Adwan Hospital said a baby had died of malnutrition, taking the number of children dead of malnutrition or dehydration since Oct. 7 to at least 30, a number that health officials say reflects under-recording.