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Syria talks close as opposition continue boycott

Representatives from the Syrian government and opposition delegates take part in the first session of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on January 23 2017 [Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu]
Representatives from the Syrian government and opposition delegates take part in the first session of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan on 23 January 2017 [Aliia Raimbekova/Anadolu]

Syrian peace talks in Kazakhstan closed today without any substantive negotiations taking place, after the anti-Assad regime opposition boycotted the meeting that took place as a deadly double suicide bombing marked the start of the civil war's seventh year.

The only concrete outcome from the third round of talks in Astana was an agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran, who are sponsoring the negotiations, to meet again in early May, according to a joint statement.

Image of the twin bomb blast in Damascus, Syria [Khaleej Times/Twitter]

Image of the twin bomb blast in Damascus, Syria [Khaleej Times/Twitter]

The opposition, who attended the previous rounds in the Kazakh capital refused to join this week's talks, accusing Russia of failing to uphold December's shaky ceasefire.

Kazakhstan's foreign ministry said that a delegation representing some of the opposition was expected to arrive in Astana today. An opposition official confirmed that a "technical delegation" was on its way but said it was not a negotiating team.

Alexander Lavrentiev, the head of the Russian delegation, told reporters that a proposal to set up commission to draft a new Syrian constitution had been discussed. This was swiftly denied by Syria's lead negotiator.

"We did not discuss this at all," Bashar Al-Ja'afari, head of the Syrian government delegation, told reporters.

UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is mediating a parallel process in Geneva, told Reuters negotiations to end the war needed to speed up. He said the conflict was becoming "one of the nastiest and most cruel wars of recent years".

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His comments coincided with a double suicide bombing in the Syrian capital Damascus the targeted the Palace of Justice and a restaurant, killing at least 31 people.

The Kazakh talks come at a time when Turkey, which backs the opposition, and Russia, which supports Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad, each want to disentangle themselves from the fighting. This has led them into an ad-hoc alliance, though barbs are still traded between the two. Al-Ja'afari accused Turkey of "impeding the Astana process".

Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed to hold the next meeting in Astana on 3 and 4 May.

Six years since the start of the uprising, Al-Assad is winning on the battlefield but only by borrowing significant strength from Iranian Shia jihadist proxies, as well as Russian airpower. Syria's civil war is far from over, with the country broken into fiefdoms ruled by the regime, rebels, militant Kurdish leftists and the opposition.

A Kazakh diplomat said that Russia had been the only side to have face-to-face meetings with both the Syrian government and the opposition throughout the Astana process.

In a closing statement, Kazakh Deputy Foreign Minister Akylbek Kamaldinov said: "What is important is that the ceasefire is still holding and the Geneva meetings are taking place without overt hostility or derailment of the talks."

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