Lavrov to meet Syria political opposition in Moscow

Sunday 22/01/2017
Talks ended without major breakthrough

MOSCOW - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold talks with officials from Syria's political opposition Friday, Moscow said, but it appeared representatives from armed rebel groups were not invited.

The meeting in Moscow comes after two days of Russian-brokered talks between the Syrian regime and armed rebel leaders in Kazakhstan ended Tuesday without a major breakthrough.

"We have invited on Friday all the opposition representatives from the political opposition that wish to come to Moscow and we will brief them about what happened in Astana," Lavrov told lawmakers on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry could not say which groups from Syria's dizzying array of opposition -- some of whom are dismissed by rebels fighting on the ground as not genuine -- would be represented.

A rebel negotiator from the armed opposition delegation that attended the Astana talks said they had not been invited to attend the meeting with Lavrov, but did not rule out heading to Moscow if they were asked.

"We did not receive an invitation," Fares Buyush said from Istanbul after the rebels left Astana.

"The problem isn't the invitation, it's the topic of discussion. If it's serious and we'll be discussing a national issue, we'll go to the end of the world," Buyush said.

Key players Russia, Iran and Turkey agreed in Astana to establish a joint "mechanism" to shore up a shaky three-week truce in Syria, but offered few concrete details on how it would work.

Representatives from Damascus and the armed rebels in the Kazakh capital were expected to hold their first face-to-face talks since the conflict erupted in 2011, but the rebels refused amid a bitter war of words and mediators had to shuttle between the two sides.

Russia has sidelined the West with its new diplomatic push to find a political settlement to the war in Syria, after its military intervention to support leader Bashar al-Assad turned the tables on the battlefield.

Rebels forces are reeling after regime troops, backed by Russian and Iranian firepower, dealt them the biggest blow in over five years of fighting by capturing their stronghold in eastern Aleppo last month.

The war in Syria has cost some 310,000 lives and forced millions to flee the country since Assad's brutal crackdown on protestors turned into an armed conflict in 2011.