Russia to host Syria peace talks in July

ASTANA (Reuters) - Russia, Turkey and Iran will hold the next round of their Syrian peace talks in July in the Russian city of Sochi, not in the Kazakh capital Astana like their previous meetings, the three countries said on Tuesday.

FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin's envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentyev speaks during a news conference at the end of the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The Syrian rebels said they would boycott the talks due to Russia’s role as host. Since they began last year, the trilateral meetings have taken place in Kazakhstan, which is not involved in the Syrian war - unlike Russia which backs President Bashar Assad and has helped him turn the tide of war by deploying its own troops.

The July meeting announcement came from the latest round of Astana talks. The reason for the change in location for the next talks was unclear.

“We understand that this looks rather strange, but ... taking into account the situation on the ground, the new realities, we would like to give new momentum to further work, shifting the focus more towards the political and humanitarian components,” Russia’s chief negotiator Alexander Lavrentyev told reporters in Astana.

Rebel negotiator Yasser Abdul Rahim said the move was unacceptable.

“If they invite us, we will not go to Sochi, the armed rebels will not go to Sochi because we must respect our people,” he told a briefing in Astana. “Russian forces have not stopped killing Syrian people.”

Russia, Iran and Turkey began holding regular talks on the Syrian conflict in Astana at the start of 2017.

In a statement on this latest round, which ends on Tuesday, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said it had made clear its “reservations on the forced evacuation operations conducted in Eastern Ghouta and in the north of Homs, as well as on the law that paves the way for the confiscation of the properties of Syrian refugees and IDPs (internally displaced people).”

Also in attendance were representatives of the Syrian government, who, like the rebels, participate in the meetings but do not sign joint statements.

Damascus envoy Bashar al-Ja’afari, who also serves as Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations, said his delegations was “content” with the results of the latest talks, but took a jab at Turkey and the United States who back the rebels.

“We confirm that … the Syrian Arab Republic will continue its struggle to liberate every inch of our land, be it from terrorism or from states that are aggressors against our national sovereignty,” he said.

Reporting by Raushan Nurshayeva; Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky