Syrian rebels threaten to boycott peace talks

Syrian rebels threaten to boycott peace talks
By Catherine Hardy with Reuters
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They have suspended preparations for the Russian-led peace talks in Kazakhstan amid what they say are concerns about ceasefire violations.


Syrian rebel groups say they have decided to freeze any preparations for their possible participation in peace negotiations being prepared by Moscow in Kazakhstan.

They are demanding that the Syrian government and its Iran-backed allies end what it says are violations of the agreed ceasefire.

What the rebels are saying

They are questioning Russia’s ability to force the Syrian government and their allies to abide by the terms of the ceasefire deal.

In a statement, the rebel groups also say that any territorial advances by the army and Iran-backed militias that are fighting alongside it would end the fragile ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey.

This came into effect on Friday.

“The regime and its allies have continued firing and committed many and large violations,” said a statement signed by the mainly-moderate rebel groups operating under the umbrella of what is known as the Free Syrian Army (FSA).

The statement says the main violations are in the rebel-held Wadi Barada valley, northwest of Damascus.

Government forces and the Iran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group have been trying to press advances in an ongoing campaign.

A major spring provides most of Damascus’ water supply and lies on the major supply route from Lebanon to the Syrian capital, used by Hezbollah. The rebels say the army wants to recapture the area.

The opposing view

Analyst Mazen Bilal says the current ceasefire is better controlled than previous ones, which broke down because the armed forces involved were not well-managed.

“Turkey, as one of the parties in the agreement, will have a direct influence on the rebels,” Bilal told reporters.

Ceasefire deal “shaky”

Like previous ceasefire deals in Syria, this one has been fragile from the start.

There have been repeated outbreaks of violence in some areas, but it has largely held.

On Saturday, the UN Security Council gave its blessing to the ceasefire deal, which is slated to be followed by peace talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted resolution 2336 on the Russia/Turkey agreement.

— UKUN_NewYork (@UKUN_NewYork) December 31, 2016

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