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Syria: Factions jockey for position ahead of new peace talks

DIPLOMATIC manoeuvring continued yesterday as warring Syrian factions gathered in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana for preliminary peace talks.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari said the ongoing ceasefire and reconciliation in Syria were on the agenda of the two-day meeting set to start tomorrow.

But the Cairo Platform of opposition groups rejected an offer from the Saudi-based High Negotiations Committee of a single place in its delegation to the February 23 peace talks in Geneva.

“We offered to create a delegation from three platforms instead: Moscow platform, Cairo platform and Riyadh platform,” representative Jihad Makdissi said.

An editorial in Syria’s Al-Baath daily warned: “Without fighting terrorism and defeating terrorists, any solution will not be fruitful.”

The Egyptian parliament’s committee for Arab affairs called for Syria to be readmitted to the Arab League, which suspended it in 2011 and instead recognises the Qatar-based Syrian National Coalition as the legitimate government.

On the battlefield, Syrian troops pushed the Isis death cult out of the Hayyan gas fields west of Palmyra and captured the village of al-Bayarat, military sources told the official Sana news agency.

East of Aleppo, the army took two more villages, edging closer to the strategic town of Deir Hafer on the road to the the Isis stronghold of Raqqa.

Meanwhile, infighting between rival jihadists in northern Hama and southern Idlib provinces left 69 dead.

Thirty-nine fighters of the al-Qaida-led coalition known as the Levant Liberation Committee were killed battling their fellow extremists of the Jund al-Aqsa group, which lost 30 militants including four suicide vehicle-bomb drivers.

The Coventry-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed the Levant Liberation Committee had captured six villages from Jund al-Aqsa.

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