Key players in Syria’s war are meeting in the Kazakh capital, Astana, for talks aimed at implementing a lasting ceasefire agreement and potentially paving the way for a political settlement.
Representatives of the Syrian government and some armed opposition groups will be holding talks on Monday and Tuesday. The meeting was organised by Russia and Iran, who support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime, and Turkey, which backs the opposition.
The talks are aimed at finalising a plan for four so-called “de-escalation zones” across eight of Syria’s 14 provinces. The zones will include certain areas of Idlib, Latakia, Aleppo, Hama, Homs, Eastern Ghouta, Deraa and al-Quneitra.
The plan, which calls for a halt to regime air raids in these areas, would last for a period of at least six months and be extended if necessary.
Sources have told Al Jazeera that the Astana talks will also discuss the release of hostages and prisoners, food and aid delivery to besieged areas, the transfer of dead bodies and the search for missing persons.
Russia, Turkey and Iran, who have monitored the talks, will act as guarantors of the de-escalation zones.
Al Jazeera’s Imran Khan, reporting from Astana, said that while it was a closed-door meeting, the fractured Syrian opposition had already relayed their concerns over the role that these countries would play.
“Syrian rebels have accused them of instigating violent clashes, with civilians being affected,” Khan said.
“The Russians have said they’re going after Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham [an alliance largely controlled by Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, a former al-Qaeda affiliate] and ISIL fighters, but rebels have accused them of attacking civilians.”
The talks mark the beginning of the latest diplomatic initiative to put an end to nearly six years of war that have left much of Syria in ruins, killed nearly half a million people, and displaced half of the population.