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Russian diplomat believes Astana meeting on Syria to strengthen ceasefire regime

The Russian Foreign Ministry's spokeswoman says the ceasefire regime in Syria is observed by and large

MOSCOW, January 19. /TASS/. Russia expects the upcoming talks on Syria in Astana to help strengthen the ceasefire regime and launch a political process in that country, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

"We expect the international meeting on the Syrian settlement in Astana to contribute to consolidating the ceasefire regime in Syria and create a favorable atmosphere for the launch of an inclusive inter-Syrian dialog in Geneva under the UN aegis based on UN Security Council Resolution 2254 and the relevant decisions by the International Syria Support Group and the Geneva communique of June 30, 2012," the spokeswoman said.

The meeting is due on the original date, January 23, she added.

"At the moment, an expert-level meeting is expected," the diplomat noted. "Some additions and changes are possible. But for now we believe that the meeting will be held on expert level," she added. Zakharova also said that the participating countries list was "still under consideration".

When speaking on the meeting’s participants, Zakharova said that "apart from the co-sponsors of the process, there is no final list yet, it is still under consideration." "Ministers have been in close contact with each other holding telephone talks," she added. "Ministers are not supposed to participate," she noted. "As far as participants go, for now we expect only experts to take part in the meeting."

The Russian foreign ministry’s spokeswoman pointed out that the Astana meeting was still planned to be held on January 23, there were no plans to change the date. "The preparations are underway for the meeting due on January 23," the diplomat confirmed. "Is there are any changes, the meeting’s organizers, who are the co-sponsors of the process, will make an announcement."

When asked if it would be a one-day meeting, Zakharova said "no, it is planned to last several days."

Zakharova urged everyone to rely on official information in this matter. "It is best to rely on official information rather than cite unnamed and unreliable sources, this would be counterproductive," she noted.

Ceasefire in Syria is observed by and large

Zakharova went on to say that the ceasefire regime in Syria is observed by and large and promotes a noticeable improvement of the humanitarian situation.

"The ceasefire in Syria, which was introduced on December 30, 2016 with assistance from Russia and Turkey is observed in the country’s whole territory by and large," she said. "It violations are casual and liable to thorough investigation by Russia and Turkey, which are guarantors of the agreement of December 29, 2016. We state with satisfaction that since December 30 the level of violence in Syria has eased noticeably and the humanitarian situation has improved."

Zakharova recalled that the Islamic State and Jabhat al-Nusra (both outlawed as terrorist organizations in Russia) "have not joined the December 29 agreements and go ahead with their attempts to disrupt the cessation of hostilities."

"Nusra members have been particularly zealous in that respect," she said. "Their mobile units shell the positions of signatories to the agreement on the cessation of hostilities, mostly at night, thus provoking clashes between them."

Also, terrorists go ahead with systematic indiscriminate bombardments of the Shiite enclaves in Idlib province, attacks on the recently freed Aleppo with rockets and suicide bomb attacks in different cities and communities of Syria, causing casualties.

"Of late, the most serious situation has developed in Deir ez-Zor," Zakharova said. "Islamic State terrorists have received reinforcements from Iraq. Their force of 14,000 mounted an offensive against an area held by the Syrian army. The jihadists managed to cut off the military airdrome from the urban quarters controlled by the Syrian authorities. About 200,000 are in danger. For several years they have been surrounded by the Islamic State forces and can count only on the protection of a small garrison of the Syrian army and humanitarian aid that is airlifted to them.

Zakharova regretted the tragedy of Deir ez-Zor was being ignored by those who just recently made a great fuss over an aggravation of the humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo.

Russia, Kazakhstan to discuss Astana meeting

Russian and Kazakh Foreign Ministers Sergey Lavrov and Kairat Abdrakhmanov will meet in Moscow on January 20 to discuss the organizational issues of a meeting on Syria in Astana, she went on. 

"The ministers will discuss a number of topical issues of bilateral relations and analyze in detail the approaches to the issues of the international agenda," the spokeswoman said.

"Attention will be paid to interaction in the EAEU [the Eurasian Economic Union], the SCO [the Shanghai Cooperation Organization], and the issue of cooperation in the UN Security Council will be discussed," Zakharova said.

"The sides will consider a number of organizational aspects of the upcoming international meeting on the Syrian settlement," the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.