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First day of Syria talks end without apparent breakthrough

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Chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush (R) of the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) rebel group listens to UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura prior to the first session of Syria peace talks at Astana’s Rixos President Hotel on January 23, 2017.

A first day of indirect peace talks between Syrian rebels and the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana ended Monday without any apparent breakthrough, sources told AFP.

“Our delegation’s meetings are over for today,” a source close to the regime told AFP, after rebel spokesman Yehya al-Aridi told reporters the opposition’s meetings were also done for the day.

Monday’s talks, organised by rebel backer Turkey and regime allies Russia and Iran, could have marked the first time armed rebel groups directly negotiate with Assad’s regime since the conflict began in 2011.

But the rebels backed out of direct talks because of the regime’s ongoing bombardment and attacks near Damascus.

The rebels, however, participated in indirect talks with the regime and held a three-way meeting with Russia, Turkey and the United Nations, an encounter Aridi described as “long and productive”.

Aridi told reporters the “two sides are working on issues relating to the confirmation of the ceasefire” brokered last month by Ankara and Moscow.

He said that the rebel delegation had met with Russia — which launched a bombing campaign in support of Assad in September 2015 — and discussed “achieving a ceasefire in Syria”.

The talks are scheduled to continue on Tuesday, with Aridi saying he expected they would take place “through mediation.”

More than 310,000 people have been killed and more than half of Syria’s population displaced since the start of the nearly six-year conflict.

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