Uncertainty regarding ceasefire in Idlib as new round of Syrian negotiations begins in Astana
The 14th round of negotiations on Syria were held on Tuesday in the Kazakh capital Nursultan, formerly known as Astana, which will focus on the stalled Syrian constitutional committee, Turkey's presence in northeastern Syria, and the situation in Idlib province, which has come under intense bombardment from the Syrian regime and Russia.
Officials from Turkey, Russia, and Iran held a series of bilateral meetings on Tuesday as part of the negotiations, which were also attended by Syrian regime and opposition representatives, as well as the UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, and observers from Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Regarding Idlib, the negotiating parties said that a lull in fighting which began on Sunday should continue throughout the duration of the Astana talks, which end on Wednesday, according to The New Arab’s affiliate Syria TV.
They expressed hope that the lull would continue for longer even though the Russian special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev previously said that there would be no formal ceasefire in Idlib at the present time and that talks regarding a comprehensive ceasefire would be ongoing.
Russia also said that there was no need to expand a "safe zone" area in northeastern Syria, which Turkey set up from territories captured from Syrian Kurdish forces in October. Turkish negotiators had hoped to expand the "safe zone" towards the south and the west.
UN envoy Geir Pedersen said that he hoped the work of the joint regime-opposition committee to draft a new constitution for Syria would resume soon, following the failure of the second round of negotiations in Geneva after the regime rejected several proposals for an agenda for those talks. Pedersen also denied that the constitutional committee would transfer its meetings from Geneva to Astana.
The Astana negotiations on Syria began at the end of 2016, setting up four "de-escalation zones" in rebel-held areas. However, Russia and the regime continued to attack the ceasefire areas, overrunning Eastern Ghouta, northern Homs and Daraa zones in 2018, and leaving Idlib province, which is now under heavy attack, as the last major rebel-held area in Syria.
More than 500,000 people have been killed and millions more displaced in the Syrian conflict, which began in 2011 after the Assad regime brutally suppressed pro-democracy protests. Russia intervened in the war on Assad's side in September 2015.