World News

Syrian HNC opposition group says it supports Astana peace talks

Mohammad Alloush of the Jaish al Islam faction and member of the High Negotiations Committee (HNC) attends a news conference after a meeting with U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura during Syria Peace talks at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, April 13, 2016. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Syrian opposition High Negotiations Committee said on Saturday it supported efforts towards planned peace talks in Kazakhstan, and viewed the meeting as a preliminary step for resuming the next round of political negotiations in Geneva.

The Syrian government and rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad began a nationwide ceasefire on Dec. 30 brokered by Moscow and Ankara.

The agreement aims to pave the way for new peace talks, which Russia hopes to convene in the Kazakh capital Astana later this month with Turkish and Iranian support.

“The committee stresses its support for the negotiating military delegation ... and expresses its hope that this meeting will reinforce the truce,” the Saudi-based HNC said in a statement.

The HNC, Syria’s main political opposition umbrella group, said it considered the Astana meeting a “preliminary step for the next round of political negotiations” in Geneva.

United Nations Syria mediator Staffan de Mistura has said he intends to convene separate peace talks in Geneva on Feb. 8. The U.N.-backed talks have been held intermittently. Russia says the Kazakh talks would complement, rather than compete with, the U.N. talks.

The Moscow-led effort to revive diplomacy, without the participation of the United States, has emerged with Assad buoyed by the defeat of rebels in Aleppo, and as ties thaw between Russia and Turkey, long one of the rebels’ main backers.

Air strikes and clashes, particularly near the Syrian capital Damascus, have tarnished the shaky ceasefire since it began two weeks ago, and the warring sides have accused each other of violations.

Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Andrew Bolton