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Next round of Syria talks at end October: Kazakhstan

Syria talks will be held at the end of October says Kazakhstan. (Reuters file)
ASTANA: Fresh talks on the Syria conflict will be held in Astana at the end of the month, Kazakhstan said on Thursday, as part of a Moscow-led push to end the six-year conflict.
The two-day meeting, which will take place on Oct. 30-31 in the Kazakh capital, will be the seventh round of negotiations this year that are co-sponsored by regime backers Russia and Iran and rebel supporter Turkey.
“The guarantor states of the cessation of hostilities have agreed that the seventh round of high-level talks on Syria as part of the Astana process will be held on Oct. 30-31,” the Kazakh Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
At the last set of talks in September, the three powers agreed to allocate forces to patrol the zone covering Idlib province and neighboring regions.
The diplomatic push brings together the Syrian regime and representatives of the opposition, including some key armed groups who had previously steered clear of other negotiations.
Moscow has been spearheading the talks in a bid to pacify Syria after its game-changing intervention on the side of President Bashar Assad.
France criticized Russia on Thursday for calling into question an international inquiry into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Russia has questioned the work and future of the joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and said it would decide whether to support extending the mandate after investigators submit their next report.
“We cannot accept that the credibility and independence of these mechanisms are challenged on the grounds that their conclusions are not suitable for Russia,” said French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Agnes Romatet-Espagne.
“This undermines the international consensus that it is our responsibility to build to stop the use of these weapons in Syria.”
The inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), is due to report by Oct. 26 on who was responsible for an April 4 attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people.
France, Britain and the US have accused Assad’s regime of being behind the attack and the probe is expected to back those claims.
The US said on Wednesday it would push the UN Security Council to renew within days the JIM’s mandate, setting the stage for a likely showdown with Russia, which backs Assad and denies Assad has used chemical weapons.
France, under President Emmanuel Macron, has been pushing for closer cooperation with Moscow, especially over Syria, and has said dialogue with Russia on enforcing a 2013 Security Council resolution to prevent the use of chemical weapons in Syria was one of its priorities.
“The JIM (already) concluded in its August and October 2016 reports the responsibility of the Syrian armed and security forces in three cases of chlorine use and IS (Daesh) in one case. The methodology of the investigation is indisputable,” Romatet-Espagne said.

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