Rebels suspend participation in Syria talks
ASTANA - Syrian rebels on Wednesday suspended their participation in the latest round of Russian-backed peace talks in Kazakhstan in protest at ongoing bombardments in the war-torn country, opposition sources said.
"The rebel delegation is suspending the meetings because of the violent air strikes on civilians. The suspension will continue until shelling stops across all Syria," a rebel source in the Kazakh capital Astana said.
Syrian rebel and government delegations had been discussing a Russian plan for "de-escalation zones" on Wednesday, sources close to the opposition said.
The two sides were in the Kazakh capital Astana for a new round of talks sponsored by opposition supporter Turkey and regime backers Russia and Iran aimed at ending six years of civil war.
A source close to the opposition provided an Arabic-language version of a proposal drafted by Russia, which an opposition official confirmed was being discussed on Wednesday.
It calls for the creation of "de-escalation zones" in rebel-held territory in the northwestern province of Idlib, in parts of Homs province in the centre, in the south, and in the opposition enclave of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
The aim is to "put an immediate end to the violence" and "provide the conditions for the safe, voluntary return of refugees".
The designated zones would also see the immediate delivery of relief supplies and medical assistance.
According to the draft, "security zones" would be created around them, with checkpoints and monitoring centres to be manned by government troops and rebel fighters.
Military units from unspecified "observer countries" could also be deployed.
The document named Turkey, Iran and Russia as guarantors of the agreement, and pledged that they would create a "joint working group" within five days of the document being signed by the warring parties.
The joint working group would be charged with drafting maps of the zones by May 22 and would also monitor a process of "disarmament."
The guarantors would also "help government and armed opposition forces pursue the fight" against extremist factions including the Islamic State group.
The Kazakh foreign ministry confirmed that the delegations were discussing a proposal for safe zones.
"The document on the zones is being discussed now," ministry official Aidarbek Tumatov told the Interfax news agency.
"If the guarantor countries agree and sign the document then accordingly Damascus and the opposition will be obliged to fulfil it."
Russian and Kazakh news agencies reported that Moscow's delegation had held closed-door consultations with Iranian and US delegations.
Syria's six-year civil war has killed more than 320,000 people and has drawn in world powers on all sides.
The Astana negotiations are viewed as complementary to broader UN-brokered talks in Geneva on a political settlement, but neither have yielded real progress so far.