Syria opposition urges Russia to push Damascus over peace settlement

Syria's opposition on Thursday (December 21st) said it was more important "than ever before" that Russia push Bashar al-Assad's government towards a political settlement, as new peace talks kicked off in Kazakhstan, AFP reported.

A new round of Syria peace talks backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey began earlier Thursday in the Kazakh capital Astana.

Delegations from Russia, Iran and Turkey along with Syrian regime representatives and a 20-strong opposition delegation had all arrived in Astana for two days of talks, a Kazakh foreign ministry spokesman said.

The UN's envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, is expected to attend the second day of talks on Friday, the ministry added.

On Thursday, de Mistura will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

In Astana, the Syrian delegation urged Russia to push Assad's government towards a peace settlement.

"The detainees are the priority for the military delegation," the Syrian opposition delegation said in a statement after meeting with a UN team.

The Syrian negotiators will also focus on the reinforcement of the ceasefire, especially in the de-escalation zones, as well as the lifting of sieges on all towns and villages and the delivery of assistance to those in need, the statement said.

Syria's SANA state news agency reported that Russia's delegation had "met separately with the Iranian and Turkish delegations."

"After the bilateral meetings, there will be a trilateral meeting between the three sponsor states," it said.

The negotiations should conclude with a plenary session involving all the parties on Friday.

The eighth round of talks comes after Russian leader Vladimir Putin ordered a partial withdrawal of Russian forces during a surprise visit to Syria last week.

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