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Astana dialogue set for Jan. 23

Free Syrian Army fighters gather near Qabasin town, on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Al-Bab. (Reuters)

MOSCOW: Talks on Syria’s political future will take place in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana on Jan. 23, a source in the Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday.
“At this time there is no indication that the meeting will be postponed. The date of Jan. 23 is set,” the source said of the negotiations to be hosted by Russia and Turkey between the Syrian regime and opposition groups.
The diplomatic source said Wednesday that current preparations for the peace talks involve compiling a list of participants.
Some groups have already expressed concern over whether the meeting will be fully representative, with the Syrian Kurds, crucial Western allies in the Syrian war but despised by Turkey, on Tuesday saying they were not invited.
Meanwhile, regime aircraft pounded opposition fighters and their radical allies in northern Syria, a monitor said Wednesday. Air raids targeted the opposition strongholds of Atarib and Khan Al-Assal in Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
It had no immediate word on any casualties. The strikes came despite a shaky two-week cease-fire between the regime and the opposition that is meant to pave the way for the Atana talks.
Regime jets also carried out strikes on Wednesday in Idlib province in the northwest, targeting positions of former Al-Qaeda affiliate Fateh Al-Sham Front, which is not party to the cease-fire, the Observatory said.
The strikes on the town of Taftanaz killed three fighters from a radical group, the Britain-based monitor said.
The White Helmets, a rescue service operating in opposition areas, spent hours clearing debris with picks and hammers.
Since the cease-fire went into effect on Dec. 30, the regime’s strikes on opposition strongholds have eased but have not stopped completely.
Fighting has continued in the Wadi Barada region, northwest of Damascus, which is the capital’s main water source.
A Syrian provincial governor said on Wednesday the regime and opposition fighters had agreed on a plan to repair damage to a spring in the Wadi Barada area that supplies water to the capital, state television reported.
The local media office for activists in opposition-held Wadi Barada, where the spring is located, denied any agreement had been reached.
The spring was knocked out of service in late December, reducing water supplies to the 70 percent of residents of Damascus and surrounding areas that it serves.
The warring parties in Wadi Barada, a mountainous valley about 20 km northwest of Damascus, agreed for technicians to enter the damaged spring facility, state television said.

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