Welcome to Syria Deeply’s weekly summary of the top coverage of the crisis in Syria.
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Peace Talks: The Syrian government’s delegation returned to Geneva on Sunday to rejoin United Nations-sponsored peace talks, just a day before Kazakhstan’s foreign ministry announced that a new round of negotiations in Astana is scheduled to start next week.
Two-day talks in the Kazakh capital are expected to begin December 21, days after U.N.-sponsored discussions in Geneva are expected to end. The U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, previously said talks in the Swiss city would run until December 15, but as of Tuesday it remained unclear how long negotiations will continue.
The lead negotiator in the government’s delegation to Geneva, Bashar al-Jaafari, quit negotiations more than a week ago, and said that there would “be no progress” as long as the opposition did not reverse its call for the removal of President Bashar al-Assad before the start of a political transition.
As they have in previous rounds of Astana negotiations, representatives from Russia, Iran and Turkey are expected to attend the talks later this month. However, Iraq’s ambassador to Russia, Haidar Mansour Hadi, said on Tuesday that Baghdad would also like an invitation to Astana, according to Russian TASS news.
“I want to ask the Russian leadership to invite Iraq to attend the talks in Astana,” Hadi said in a meeting with Russian politician Konstantin Kosachev.
Putin’s Promises: President Vladimir Putin said he ordered a “significant part” of Moscow’s troops to begin their withdrawal from Syria on Monday, during a surprise visit to Russia’s Hmeimim air base near the coastal Syrian province of Latakia.
“The conditions for a political solution under the auspices of the United Nations have been created,” Putin said, according to Reuters. “Friends, the Motherland is waiting for you. You are coming back home with victory,” he said, according to the Associated Press.
Russia’s commander in Syria, Gen. Sergei Surovikin, said Moscow will withdraw “23 warplanes, two helicopter gunships, special forces units, military police and field engineers.” He did not specify how many soldiers and weapons would remain, but said it would be enough to “successfully fulfill the tasks” of stabilizing the situation in Syria, according to the Associated Press.
Putin has previously made similar statements but they did not result in a major or permanent withdrawal of Russian forces from Syria.
Moscow’s decision comes days after it declared the complete defeat of the so-called Islamic State in Syria. “There is not a single village or district in Syria under the control of [ISIS]. The territory of Syria has been completely liberated from fighters of this terrorist organization,” senior military officer Sergei Rudskoi told reporters.
Syria Deeply has not been able to independently confirm the absence of ISIS in every “single village or district” in the country.