Astana talks mark commitment to Syria's political unity, territorial integrity

At 17th round of talks, parties agree to efforts to improve humanitarian conditions, says Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Astana talks mark commitment to Syria's political unity, territorial integrity

A day after the latest two-day round of Syria talks kicked off in Kazakhstan, the parties of the Astana Process expressed their "strong commitment" to Syria's political unity and territorial integrity, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

The 17th round of the international meeting on Syria kicked off in Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on Monday with the attendance of representatives of the sides, as well as the guarantor countries Turkey, Russia, and Iran.

"At the meeting, latest developments in the political process, situation in Idlib, humanitarian aid and counter-terrorism issues were discussed," the Turkish ministry said in a statement.

Ambassador Selcuk Unal, the Turkish Foreign Ministry's director-general responsible for Syria, represented Ankara at the meetings, while the Russian delegation was led by Presidential Envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev and Iran's by Ali Asghar Khaji, a senior aide to Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian.

The Syrian regime joined the meeting with a delegation headed by Deputy Foreign Minister Ayman Susan and the opposition with a delegation headed by Ahmad Tuma.

Syria's neighboring Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan are also taking part in the meetings with observer status, along with UN special envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen.

During the talks, the Turkish side first met with the UN Special Delegation to Syria.

Underlining that the parties "emphasized the importance of maintaining calm" in the de-escalation zone in Idlib, a northwestern province of Syria, the ministry also announced that they "agreed to make further efforts to improve the humanitarian situation on the ground."

"The Parties underlined that illegitimate self-rule initiatives under the pretext of fighting terrorism are unacceptable," it said, also expressing "grave concern" over the "increasing attacks and oppression against civilians by separatist structures in the east of the Euphrates."

"In this context, our determination in the fight against the PKK/YPG terrorist organization was emphasized."

According to the statement, the participating sides also declared their commitment to "advancing the political process in accordance with UN Security Council resolution 2254."

"In this context, they called for holding the seventh round of the Constitutional Committee as soon as possible with a constructive approach by the Syrian parties," it said.

As the return of Syrian refugees was also a point of discussion at the meeting, the officials "underlined the importance and priority of facilitating the return of internally displaced persons and refugees to their original places of residence in a dignified, safe and voluntary manner," according to the ministry.

A working group on the release of detainees/abductees, the handover of bodies, and identification of missing people also convened on the sidelines, it said. "Mutual release of some detainees on 16 December as part of the sixth project of the Working Group was welcomed. It was agreed to continue such activities and cooperation," added the statement.

Earlier, Iran's Foreign Ministry unveiled plans to host the next round of the Astana meeting on the Syrian crisis in its capital Tehran, without giving an exact date.

Syria has been ravaged by a civil war since early 2011 when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protesters with unexpected ferocity.

The Astana peace process to end the conflict was launched in January 2017 at the initiative of Turkey, Russia and Iran.

Meetings of the Astana guarantors also contribute to the advancement of the UN-led diplomatic process in Geneva.

Hüseyin Demir

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