Syria rebels arrive in Kazakhstan for talks
ASTANA - Members of the Syrian opposition delegation arrived Sunday in the Kazakh capital Astana for face-to-face peace talks with the war-torn nation's government.
The talks, set to begin on Monday, will be the first time a delegation composed exclusively of rebel groups will negotiate with the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Chief opposition negotiator Mohammad Alloush flew into Astana on Sunday morning, according to an AFP correspondent who saw the delegation arrive.
He was accompanied by around a dozen rebel figures, including Fares Buyush of the Idlib Army, Hassan Ibrahim of the Southern Front and Mamoun Hajj Moussa of Suqur al-Sham.
A source close to the opposition's team said that the delegation had been broadened from eight rebel figures to a total of 14, in addition to 21 legal and political advisers.
The 10-member government delegation, headed by its UN ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, left Damascus on Sunday, according to Syrian state news agency SANA.
Rebels have insisted the talks will focus solely on reinforcing a frail nationwide truce brokered by opposition supporter Turkey and regime ally Russia last month.
Although the two countries have backed opposing sides of Syria's nearly six-year conflict, they have worked hand-in-hand in recent weeks to secure an end to the brutal war that has killed more than 300,000.
The Astana talks, which Assad ally Iran is also helping organise, will be the first test of this new partnership.
They will be held in the city's luxury Rixos President Hotel, where staff members were setting up a single large table in a conference room under blue banners bearing the hashtag #AstanaProcess.
Rebels and regime figures are expected to sit in the same room, along with UN envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura.
De Mistura on Sunday hailed the talks as a "good initiative" in comments carried by Russian news agencies.
In addition to the hundreds of thousands killed, more than half of the country's population has been displaced since Syria's conflict erupted in March 2011 with protests against Assad's rule.