News Analysis: Astana peace talks focus on forming constitutional committee, demilitarized zone violations

Source: Xinhua| 2018-11-28 22:01:32|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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DAMASCUS, Nov. 28 (Xinhua) -- The 11th round of the Syrian talks in Astana kicked off on Wednesday, focusing on forming a constitutional committee to discuss Syria's constitution and the situation of the demilitarized zone in Idlib Province in northern Syria.

This around of talks has brought together Russia, Turkey and Iran, the guarantor states of the talks, as well as the UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, and delegations from both the government and opposition, the al-Watan newspaper reported.

Issues of the constitutional committee and the situation in Idlib are the hot topics in Syria's more than seven-year war.

In Idlib, the continuing daily fights have made a mockery of the demilitarized zone deal reached by Turkey and Russia in September, despite its acknowledged contribution to less tension in the province and surrounding areas.

According to the deal, the extremist groups, including those affiliated with the al-Qaida, should withdraw their arms and fighters from the designated zone. However, media reports said the remaining rebels there are still amassing forces and preparing for a possible wide-scale confrontation with the government forces.

State news agency SANA said on Tuesday that the army had foiled several infiltration attempts by the rebels toward military positions in the northwestern countryside of Hama Province near Idlib.

Meanwhile, the government accused rebels of using chlorine gas in the attack on the northern city of Aleppo on Saturday, which led to suffocation of 107 civilians.

Damascus now aims for a possible confrontation with the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the umbrella group of the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, as this force, the strongest among rebel groups in Idlib, is spearheading the opposition to the demilitarized zone deal.

Turkey is the power responsible for pushing the rebels to commit to the plan as it enjoys big clout among them.

State-run al-Thawra newspaper said on Wednesday that the new round of talks in Astana puts Turkey and the rebels back in front of a new test to prove their seriousness in reaching a political solution after the rebels' violations.

Observers in Damascus believe the guarantor states in the Astana talks are expected to discuss ways to enhance the demilitarized zone deal, which could mean a limited military operation against the rebels refusing to follow the deal.

Forming a constitutional committee is another pressing issue, which Russia has been trying to pull off by the end of the year.

In his remarks on Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov voiced hope that a breakthrough could be made during the two-day Astana talks regarding the formation of the constitutional committee, which will be tasked with crafting a constitution for postwar Syria.

The aim remains for the UN to issue invitations by mid-December and convene the first meeting of the constitutional committee before Dec. 31, de Mistura told the UN Security Council.

The UN envoy was supposed to step down by the end of November. But he has decided to stay for another month and make a final push for the constitutional committee.

As for the Syrian government, Damascus has made it clear that the constitution is a sovereign matter that should be discussed among Syrians without foreign interference amid speculations that the leaders in the Astana talks will work to reach a middle ground acceptable for all parties.