Next round of Astana talks to be held in late November, early December

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The next round of Astana talks on Syria is expected to take place in late November or early December, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov was quoted as saying yesterday by the TASS news agency.

"A clear plan of further steps is being formed. Now the focus is on the development of the constitutional committee, but other contacts are also possible. I think there is the general understanding that it is necessary to gather in the Astana format. It will be in late November, most probably," Bogdanov said, underlining that the current situation in Idlib is important now.

The Astana peace process was launched by Russia, Iran, and Turkey in the Kazakh capital Astana in January 2017 to bring all warring parties in the Syrian conflict to the table to find a political solution as a complementary part of the U.N. sponsored peace talks in Geneva.

Last year, the three guarantor countries agreed to establish de-escalation zones in the northern province of Idlib and parts of neighboring Latakia, Hama and Aleppo. The partial cease-fire, however, was short-lived. Regime forces backed by Russia and Iran re-conquered three of the zones through heavy bombardments.

Idlib remained as the last stronghold of the opposition with dozens of opposition groups squeezed into northwestern Syria's Idlib. As the Bashar Assad regime was preparing for a full-scale operation in the province of Idlib in late August and September, Turkey and Russia stepped in reaching an agreement on Sept. 17 to prevent a humanitarian disaster. The deal, known as the Sochi agreement, set up a demilitarized zone of 15-20 kilometers between the opposition forces and the regime forces. The deal also saw the evacuation of all heavy weapons and all radical groups from the zone, while moderate opposition groups in Idlib will remain in areas where they are already present.

Accordingly, Russia and Turkey will carry out joint patrols in the area to ward off renewed fighting and ensure the compliance to the deal.

The Russian Defense Ministry also announced on Sunday that the breaches of the Sochi deal decreased considerably. The statement also added that the Russian side of the Russian-Turkish commission monitoring the implementation of the cease-fire registered two cease-fire violations in the country over the past 24 hours, while the Turkish side did not document any breaches.

According to the statement, two violations occurred in the provinces of Aleppo and Hama.

Meanwhile, the leaders of Turkey, Russia, Germany and France met on Saturday in Istanbul, as part of efforts to bring the nearly 8-year-old war in Syria to an end. In the summit where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, it was agreed that the four countries will look for a political solution to the Syrian crisis instead of the continuation of military operations.

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