Syria talks in Astana 'to be held behind closed doors'

Kayhan Ozer  Pool via AP

Syria's rebels won't begin negotiating a political settlement with the government until measures are taken to bolster a flagging cease-fire and address urgent humanitarian concerns, the head of the opposition delegation to planned talks in Kazakhstan told The Associated Press today.

Those talks are slated to begin February 23. Turkey has avoided any discussions on a political settlement, saying Astana should not be an alternative to United Nations -sponsored talks in Geneva, the venue for political negotiations between the Syrian opposition and the regime.

Russian Federation and Iran, close allies of President Bashar Assad, and Turkey, which backs the rebels, previously pledged to enforce the cease-fire, but both sides have alleged repeated violations.

De Mistura says the talks will be in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2254 aimed at ending the conflict in the Arab country.

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The plane finally lifted off from Lambert about 2:50 p.m., nearly six hours after it was scheduled to land in Phoenix. Aerial video then showed crews unloading all luggage from the plane and placing the items on the tarmac.

Muslit said the HNC, which includes rebel groups and political opponents of Assad, wanted to start the negotiations by discussing a governing body to oversee the transition. The Syrian government said on February 13 it was ready to agree on prisoner swaps with rebel groups.

The Syrian government's position comes after the "success. of the Syrian state in freeing numerous civilians and soldiers kidnapped by terrorist groups", the agency cited an official source as saying.

This month, the Syrian regime and opposition groups swapped dozens of women prisoners and hostages, some of them with their children, in Hama province in northwestern Syria. The ministry did not give a reason for the delay.

During the meeting with representatives of both delegations in attendance, the two sides exchanged views on the latest developments on Astana talks process and the agenda for the second round of the worldwide meeting aimed at finding a political solution for the Syrian crisis. Jordan will also be represented by a "high-level delegation", government spokesman Mohamed Momani said.

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