A face time between the rebels and the Syrian government will take place for the first time in Astana, Kazakhstan, on Monday to lay the foundation stone of the solution to the long-standing conflict in Syria.

The unprecedented vis-a-vis is the result of a fresh Turkish-Russian understanding, as Turkey negotiated on behalf of the rebels it’s backing, while Russia for the Syrian government.

The deal between both powers was positively received by the conflicting parties, due to the confidence they have in their backers.

REBELS ONBOARD AS MAIN STEPS

The first step for bringing the crisis to an end is to achieve and consolidate a ceasefire, which will be the cornerstone to any later solution, and categorizing the rebel groups, meaning that the terrorists must be detached from the moderate ones who seek a solution, is also as important.

With Turkey and Russia in play, it’s highly likely that such a ceasefire will be more serious and real than previous failed attempts, as both powers have the means to make sure their allies on ground abide by the plan.

The main goal of the Astana talks which will start on Monday is to reinforce the ceasefire, which has been in place since Dec.30.

Bashar Jaafari, the permanent representative of Syria in the UN, and the current head of the government delegation to Astana, said the agenda of the meeting revolves fixating the cessation of hostilities in Syria, and categorizing the rebel groups, by separating rebels who agree to the talks from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Islamic State (IS) group, both designated as terrorist organizations that should be eradicated.

Also, Syria’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis said Sunday that his government is serious about the imminent Syrian talks in Astana, noting that Damascus welcomes any initiative to restore peace.

The prime minister said the priority of the meeting is to kick the foreign terrorists out of Syria.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said that establishing a ceasefire in Syria is the priority of the negotiations in Astana.

He said the conference will be in the shape of negotiations between the government and the rebel groups to reach a ceasefire and allow the rebels to join the reconciliation deals with the government.

Analysts believe that the Russian-Turkish agreement will have more viable results, contrary to the previous Russian-American one, which failed as the United States failed to separate the rebels from the terrorist groups.

“I think now that Russia and Turkey are on the same page, a message that has been sent to the concerned rebel groups on ground that either you are involved in the solution, or accept a doomed fate,” Maher Ihsan, a Syrian journalist and political analyst, told Xinhua.

It’s now or never, as the conflict has been dragging on for nearly six years, and no winner has emerged, owing to the fact that only a political solution is the answer, he added.

TERROR GROUPS ISOLATED

The rebels who have alliances with the Nusra or the IS group will have to detach themselves from such links, to have a role in the future solution to the country, and that’s what is happening now.

The Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham has already engaged in battles against Nusra and the allied Jund al-Aqsa group in the northwestern province of Idlib, a key bastion for Nusra.

In Idlib, there are plenty of declared, or undeclared allegiances with Nusra, which means that a wide-scale confrontation between this terror-designated group and other rebel groups is inevitable.

Opposition activists said Jund al-Aqsa group has also deserted from Nusra in the city of Kafr Zaita in the northern countryside of the central province of Hama and surrendered to Ahrar al-Sham.

Also, activists said a new rebel alliance has been formed to capture areas under the Jund al-Aqsa control in the Jabal al-Zawiyeh region in Idlib countryside.

The alliance includes Ahrar al-Sham, Suqor al-Sham, Jaish al-Islam, Jaish al-Mujahideen, the Free Syrian Army, and Istaqem Kama Umert group.

Aside from the rebel coalition against Nusra and Jund al-Aqsa, warplanes believed to be with the U.S.-led anti-terror coalition has intensively targeted commanders of the Nusra Front and Jund al-Aqsa since the beginning of this month.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Right on Sunday placed the death toll of the slain commanders at 134, in another sign that the terror-designated group is losing and becoming more isolated.

In its first response to the Astana talks, Nusra issued a statement on Saturday, saying that the fact that “Russia being the political and diplomatic supervisor of the negotiations in Astana, is a flagrant humiliation to the sacrifices of the mujahideen and that going to Astana means one way or another the acceptance of (president Bashar) al-Assad being on top of his rule.”

It urged other rebel groups to “not slide into the intrigues and conspiracies.”

As for the Islamic State, the group is also being attack on several fronts, either by Russia or the U.S.-led coalition.

The Russian warplanes have been heavily backing the Syrian ground forces in the battles against IS, either in the eastern province of Deir al-Zour, or the eastern countryside of Homs, near the ancient city of Palmyra.

The Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army is also closing in on the IS strongholds in the northern countryside of the northern province of Aleppo, namely in the city of al-Bab, the last IS stronghold near the Turkish borders.

“Now the rebels who are part of the Astana talks will find themselves, willingly, or unwillingly, in the same trench with the Syrian army in the face of IS and Nusra as there is no other way around, as those who will not comply, will be counted with either one of the terrorist groups,” Ahmad al-Ashqar, a political analyst, told Xinhua.

TURKEY, RUSSIA MAINTAIN INTERESTS IN SYRIA

Resolving the conflict in Syria has been the priority of Russia since it intervened to help the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad in 2015.

“Their aim wasn’t to sink in the quagmire of the Syria war, but to get things done quickly and find a solution,” Ashqar said.

He added that the Russians have reserved their interest in Syria, citing the fact that Russia will have a permanent base in the coastal cities of Tartus and Latakia for the next 49 years.

On Friday, Russia signed a long-term agreement to greatly enlarge its military presence in Syria.

The agreement will see Russia doubling space of warships in the Tartus naval base, and also in the Hmaimim airbase in the coastal city of Latakia.

The agreement ensures Russia’s ability to deploy forces in Syria for the next half-century.

As for Turkey, Ankara has felt the pinch when the Kurds in Syria started growing influence and explicitly voicing their goal to achieve an autonomy in northern Syria near the Turkish borders.

Moreover, several bombing rocked Turkey, which Ankara blamed either on the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which it deems terrorist, or on IS.

Now that the fire reached Turkey, Ankara had to join force with Russia to protect itself, while maintaining its interest in the Syrian cake.

The rebels it’s backing have already made notable gains against the Kurdish-backed groups in northern Syria and the IS, and securing the borders from any Kurdish expansion.

Moreover, the Astana talks have excluded the Kurdish-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

In a statement on Saturday, the SDF said it will not abide by the decisions that would come out from Astana.

It said the exclusion is a “flagrant violation to the rights of the forces in the SDF and violation to their rights and sacrifices.”

Analysts in Syria said that the Kurdish paper was among the agreements between Russia and Turkey.

“Since the Kurdish influence was growing, we knew that they will be the ones to pay the price in any negotiations, as their exclusion and limitation will be Ankara’s demand to be part in ending the conflict in Syria,” Kinda Maryia, a Syrian journalist, told Xinhua.

WHAT’S THE U.S. TO DO?

The administration of the former President Barack Obama was dealing with indecisiveness regarding the threats of the terror groups, amid reports that weapons and training was offered for several rebel groups, whose alliances were not taken into consideration.

Separating the terrorist groups from other rebel factions has been a failure, as the Obama administration stopped short of achieving such goal through a previous agreement with Russia.

And due to the fact that the United States was busy with its presidential elections over the past few months, Turkey and Russia, as well as Iran, have taken the initiative, analysts said.

The prospects of a U.S. cooperation under the administration of President Donald Trump is high, as he expressed willingness to cooperate with Russia in the war on terror on several occasions.

“We will…unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism which we will eradicate completely from the face of the earth,” Trump said during his inauguration speech.

Speaking to members of the CIA community at its headquarters in Langley on Sunday, Trump described IS as evil that needs to be rooted out.

“This is a level of evil that we haven’t seen. You’re going to go to it, and you’re going to do a phenomenal job,” he said.

Analysts believe that Trump will cast his blessing on all efforts made by Russia against the terror groups in Syria, particularly during the upcoming talks in Geneva, where more superpowers will be involved for a broader political talks that will be based on the outcome of the Astana meeting. Enditem

Source: Hummam Sheikh Ali, Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh

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