ATROCITY: Amina, a Syrian-Canadian, holds a mock corpse covered in Syria's flag during a protest in front of the United Nations building in New York. Picture: REUTERS
ATROCITY: Amina, a Syrian-Canadian, holds a mock corpse covered in Syria's flag during a protest in front of the United Nations building in New York. Picture: REUTERS

Astana — Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to monitor a shaky truce in war-torn Syria, but rebels and Damascus made no breakthrough towards a political settlement of the conflict after indirect talks.

Moscow, Tehran and Ankara, sponsors of talks in Kazakhstan’s capital, said they would "establish a trilateral mechanism to observe and ensure full compliance" with the December ceasefire.

The three powers also backed participation of rebel groups at a new round of peace talks to be hosted by the UN in Geneva next month.

"There is no military solution to the Syrian conflict and ... it can only be solved through a political process," they said in a statement read out by Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov.

The two days of talks in Astana, which left the West sidelined, were mainly a Kremlin initiative with Russia the main power broker in Syria and military supporter of the Bashar al-Assad government.

The meeting was expected to feature the first face-to-face talks between Syria’s regime and the armed opposition since the conflict erupted in 2011, but rebels backed out and mediators had to shuttle between the two sides. The latest diplomatic initiative to end Syria’s bloodshed in Syria, which has cost 310,000 lives, came a month after regime forces, aided by Russia and Iran, dealt a crushing blow to rebels by retaking full control of the country’s second city Aleppo.

A ceasefire brokered by Russia and rebel-backer Turkey has been in place since late December but rebels and Damascus complain of repeated violations.

The rebels — who insisted they would use the Astana talks to push Damascus to respect the truce — refused direct talks with the regime on Monday because of its continued bombardment and attacks on a flashpoint outside the Syrian capital Damascus.

Regime negotiator Bashar al-Jafaari said the talks "succeeded in achieving the goal of consolidating the cessation of hostilities for a fixed period paving the way for dialogue between Syrians".

"Astana has only one goal: consolidating the regime of the cessation of hostilities," he said. However, no concrete details were available immediately on the three-way mechanism agreed by Russia, Iran and Turkey to strengthen the ceasefire and how it would resolve the thorniest hotspots.

The rebels have called for a halt to regime attacks on Wadi Barada, an area 15km northwest of Damascus, but Jafaari insisted operations would continue. There was rancour and mudslinging between Damascus and the rebels delegations.

A rebel delegate told AFP on Monday that the group would agree to Russia as a ceasefire guarantor, but not Iran, which controls ground troops fighting for Assad.

The Syrian regime said it would refuse to hold government-level talks with Turkey and sign any document bearing a Turkish official’s signature.

AFP

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