Syria regime, rebels name heads of delegation for Astana talks

UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari will head regime delegation

DAMASCUS - Syria's UN ambassador will head the government delegation to upcoming peace talks, a Syrian daily reported Tuesday, while the opposition said it would be represented by rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush.
Talks on the nearly six-year-old conflict, organised by Turkey, Russia and Iran, are set to begin on January 23 in the Kazakh capital Astana.
The Al-Watan daily, which is close to the government, reported on Tuesday that the regime's delegation "will be led by Syrian diplomat and permanent representative to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari."
The government's team will also include "figures representing the military and the Syrian judiciary, so that the delegation will represent the whole Syrian state," the newspaper wrote.
Chief rebel negotiator Mohammad Alloush, a leading figure in the Jaish al-Islam (Army of Islam) faction, will represent the opposition, according to National Coalition member Ahmad Ramadan.
The opposition delegation will include around 20 people, Ramadan said.
Rebel groups announced on Monday that they would send a "military" delegation to Astana, as well as legal and political advisors from the High Negotiations Committee umbrella group.
Alloush and Jaafari headed opposing teams at UN-hosted peace talks in Geneva last year, trading accusations throughout the ill-fated negotiations.
Jaafari described his rival as a "terrorist," while Alloush accused the regime of committing "massacres" in Syria.
The Astana talks will aim to build on a nationwide truce in place since December 30 that was brokered by rivals Ankara and Moscow.
Although they back opposing sides in the war, the two powers have worked closely in recent months to bring an end to the conflict.
In announcing their participation, rebels said that the talks would focus on strengthening the truce, while discussions on Syria's political future would be left for talks in Geneva in February.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday said "one of the goals of the Astana meeting is, first, reinforcing the ceasefire."
But Al-Watan on Tuesday reported that the government's delegation would head to Astana in pursuit of a "political solution" to the war.
"No one thinks Damascus is going to Astana to discuss a halt to military operations, as some want to suggest, or to reinforce the so-called ceasefire," the paper said.
"Damascus is attending in the framework of its vision for a comprehensive political solution to the war on Syria... and to re-impose the hegemony and sovereignty of the state on all Syrian territory," it wrote.