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SYRIA TALKS TO KICK OFF IN KAZAKHSTAN’S ASTANA ON JAN. 23: UN SPECIAL ENVOY

GENEVA, Russian and Turkish-backed Syria talks to take place in the Kazakh capital of Astana are expected to start on Jan. 23, the UN Special Envoy for Syria told Xinhua Friday, adding that negotiations could cement a fragile ceasefire in place in the war-torn country since last week.

"Astana is an important opportunity and that's why both China and the UN support this initiative. We are looking forward in Astana to seeing the consolidation of the cessation of hostilities," Staffan de Mistura said.

"What the Syrian people are asking for is a stop to the fighting, so if by the time there is a meeting on this on January 23 in Astana and the cessation of hostilities is consolidated and not broken as we have seen at times in the last few days, that is an important moment," he added.

The diplomat also said that he hoped that the talks will pave the way towards UN-mediated political discussions based on UN Security Council resolution 2254 in Geneva on Feb. 8.

"Astana is important to prepare the support and help the meeting we will have in Geneva," he explained.

Syria peace talks, involving both the Syrian government delegation and opposition forces vying to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, have been on hold since April last year amid protracted violence and a systemic humanitarian crisis.

The latest cessation of hostilities agreement which came into effect on Dec. 30, as well as the plan for peace talks, received the unanimous backing of the UN Security Council on Dec. 31.

The ceasefire is the third in Syria after two previous ones failed last year. The first was reached in February 2016 and lasted for three months before collapsing, while the second was established in September and was observed for only a week.

A number of rebel groups announced earlier this week that they were freezing talks on planned negotiations with the Syrian government, casting a shadow over the ailing peace process of the Middle Eastern country. �

Source: NAM NEWS NETWORK