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Syria opposition rejects Russian dialogue initiative

Opposition group says Russia cannot be trusted to mediate talks as it is fighting on the side of President Assad.

Syrian opposition

The Syrian opposition attending the latest round of peace talks in Astana has rejected the Russian call for a Congress in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi.

The "Syrian Congress on National Dialogue" proposed by Moscow during the two-day talks in the Kazakh capital is expected to discuss the reconciliation between all of the warring parties, political reform and discuss the proposed new Syrian constitution.

"This is a Russian deception," said Fateh Hassoun who headed the Syrian opposition military delegation to the 7th round of Astana talks to end six-year-old Syria war.

"We don't trust the Russians because they are part of the war and they are fighting on behalf of the regime on the ground," he added.

READ MORE: Syrian war: All you need to know about the Astana talks

The Astana talks were attended by the Syrian opposition, the Syrian regime, Turkey, Iran and Russia to discuss the implementation of past agreements.

The Russian delegation said the conference would be held on the 18th of this month and can be held either on the Russian Hmeimim military base in Latakia or in Sochi.

But the Syrian opposition accused Moscow of trying to divert and eventually control the peace process in Syria by shifting the venues from Geneva and Astana to a Russian-controlled Hmeimim-Sochi process.

Syrian opposition leader Mohamad Alloush said the proposed conference would be akin to a dialogue between the regime and itself.

Sticking point

Ahmad Ramadan, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, one of the main Syrian opposition groups participating in the talks, said the Coalition would not participate in any negotiations with the regime outside the Geneva venue or without UN sponsorship.

The talks in Astana however, made some progress in terms of getting Russia to commit to maintaining and expanding the de-escalation zones. The opposition has worked to cement the agreement on de-escalation zones in Idlib province and in and around Damascus.

However, the issue of prisoner exchange between the regime and the opposition remained a sticking point during the talks.

The opposition contends that they succeeded in advancing the issue with the help of the Kazakh government, the American and the French delegation, but the Iranian delegation objected to it.

"The Iranians have been evasive and tried to obstruct the agreements throughout the talks in Astana," Ayman al-Asemi, a member of the Free Syrian Army's military council, said.

"The Iranians are doing in order to prevent any future investigation of their role in committing war crimes inside Syria," he added.

Ahmad Kamel, a Syrian journalist based in France and a supporter of the opposition, said the Russians want complete surrender of the Syrian opposition.

"They are practically repackaging the same old Baath regime of President Bashar al-Assad," he said.

"But what we are offered here is a 100 percent, inflexible and total control of the same old regime. It would be a betrayal of hundreds and thousands of victims who lost their lives and their homes."

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