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Syrian Rebels Say They Will Attend Peace Talks In Kazakhstan

Syrian rebels have decided to attend peace talks in Kazakhstan that are backed by Russia and Turkey, rebel officials said.

The officials said on January 16 that the decision to attend the talks -- which are scheduled for January 23 in Astana, the Kazakh capital -- was made during ongoing meetings in Ankara.

"The majority of the groups decided to attend," said Zakaria Malahifji of the Fastaqim rebel group. "Discussions will be on the cease-fire, the humanitarian issues -- aid deliveries, release of detainees," Malahifji added.

An official in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebel group said rebel representatives want to press for implementation of a widely violated cease-fire.

"The factions will go and the first thing they will discuss will be the matter of the cease-fire and the violations by the regime," said the official, who declined to be identified because the FSA -- a loose alliance of several moderate rebel factions -- had yet to appoint a spokesperson.

On December 29, Moscow announced that Russia and Turkey brokered a nationwide cease-fire agreement between the Syrian government and opponents. Moscow also said that the sides had expressed willingness to begin peace talks.

While the United States was notably excluded from the process, Russian authorities have said that Russia, Turkey, and Iran will attend the talks in Astana, adding Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Jordan could eventually join as well.

Sean Spicer, who is to be White House spokesman after U.S. President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20, has said that the Russian ambassador to Washington invited the United States to take part in the talks during a telephone conversation in late December with Trump's incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on January 16 that he could not confirm that the Trump administration had been invited.

Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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