Far from war-shattered Syria, talks began in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Monday between the opposition and representatives of President Bashar al-Assad.
Russia, Turkey and Iran are sponsoring this latest attempt at ending the six-year-old conflict but organisers are playing down hopes of a breakthrough, with the meeting expected to last only until Tuesday.
What is more, the two sides won’t reportedly be talking face to face.
And, adding to the difficulties, Russia and Turkey remain at odds over fundamental issues such as whether Assad should stay in power or step down for the sake of reconciliation.
Since the last round of UN-brokered talks in Geneva was suspended early last year, rebels know the fall of their former urban stronghold, Aleppo, has shifted the momentum in the fighting in favour of the government.
They have denounced what they say are widespread violations of a ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey last month.
On the eve of the peace talks, video uploaded to social media purported to show air strikes on two Syrian towns under rebel control in the provinces of Hama and Homs.
The Astana meeting notably excludes the West, although Moscow extended a last-minute invitation to the new United States administration last week.
However President Donald Trump has decided against sending a formal delegation. The United States is instead being represented by its ambassador in Kazakhstan.
U.S. under Trump won’t send a delegation to Syria talks https://t.co/Mquj3V8G6a— Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) 21 janvier 2017
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