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Second day of Syria peace talks begins in Astana

SECOND DAY OF SYRIA PEACE TALKS BEGINS IN ASTANA

A fifth round of peace talks aimed at ending the Syria conflict entered their second day on Wednesday in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.

"Negotiations have begun. Currently, there are bilateral meetings between the negotiators," Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry spokesman Anuar Zhainakov was quoted as saying by national news agency Kazinform.

Representatives of the Syrian regime, armed opposition groups, the three guarantor countries -- Russia, Turkey, and Iran --, the UN Special Representative for Syria Staffan de Mistura, as well as delegations from Jordan and the U.S. are attending.

Zhainakov said their main agenda item was to define the boundaries of de-escalation zones in Syria.

At the fourth round of Astana talks on May 4, the three guarantor countries signed a deal to establish these special areas.

However, it was reported on Tuesday that regime warplanes struck the city of Douma, east of Damascus, which lies within one of the de-escalation zones, according to a pro-opposition Syrian civil defense official.

During the May talks, Douma was designated as part of a network of such areas where acts of aggression are expressly forbidden.

'AMMAN PROCESS'
A Syrian armed opposition source who spoke to Anadolu Agency reporters on condition of anonymity, said they had met Stuart Jones, Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State.

An American diplomat confirmed Jones told opposition groups it had been agreed with Russia and Jordan to set up a security zone in southern Syria.

According to the Syrian opposition source, the U.S. wants to "prevent the success of the Astana process and initiate a rival Amman process".

Russian special envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, told reporters on Tuesday an agreement had been reached on two of four de-escalation zones but added there remained issues regarding the southern region, which borders Jordan.

Following a Dec. 30 cease-fire, the first round of Astana talks was held on Jan. 23-24, brokered by Turkey -- which backs the opposition -- and Russia and Iran, which support the Bashar al-Assad regime.

Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests. Since then, more than 250,000 people have been killed and in excess of 10 million displaced, according to the UN.

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