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Assad ready to agree prisoner swap deal in preparation for peace talks

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad [File photo]

The Syrian government signalled today that it is ready to agree prisoner swaps with opposition groups, a confidence-building measure that might help both sides attend peace talks.

Syrian state media said the government was “always ready” to exchange prisoners in its jails for people “kidnapped by terrorist groups”, “particularly in the framework of efforts being made for the coming meeting in Astana”, Reuters reported.

There was no immediate reaction from rebel groups, which have long demanded a prisoner release from the government as one of a number of humanitarian measures they say it must take ahead of any peace talks.

Read: Syrian opposition cast doubt on Kazakhstan talks, slam Russia

Al Jazeera‘s Andrew Simmons, reporting from the Turkish city of Gaziantep along the Syrian border, said it was “difficult to know how significant this is because there have been prisoner swaps in the past”.

Russia, Turkey and Iran – who created a trilateral mechanism to enforce the fragile ceasefire in Syria last month in Astana – are set to meet again in the Kazakh capital later this week.

The Kazakh foreign ministry said over the weekend that the Syrian government and rebel delegations had been invited to attend the meetings, set for 15-16 February.

Also read: Assad’s forces target civilians in Hama, Russian battleships bomb Idlib with rockets

Separately, UN-backed peace talks are due to start in Geneva on 20 February. The main Syrian opposition body on Sunday approved its delegation to the talks.

This month, in a rare move, the Syrian government and opposition groups swapped dozens of female prisoners and hostages, some of them with their children, in the province of Hama in north-western Syria.

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