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Turkey says truce violations put Syria talks in jeopardy

Turkey says truce violations put Syria talks in jeopardy

BEIRUT — Turkey warned on Wednesday that repeated cease-fire violations by Syria's government were threatening peace talks scheduled for later this month.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the talks in Kazakhstan were scheduled for January 23, to be preceded by preparatory meetings between Turkish and Russian "experts" in Turkey.

The Syrian government and allied militias have pressed on with an offensive to take the Barada Valley outside Damascus from rebels despite a cease-fire agreement signed shortly before the new year. The government says the region was never included in the agreement.

Rebels have retaliated with shelling and raids on government-held areas in other parts of the country.

The rebels also accuse the government of carrying out air raids in the rebel-held province of Idlib, where hundreds of thousands of civilians have sought refuge.

Cavusoglu called on Iran, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and one of the guarantors of the agreement, to address the violations by pro-government forces. Turkey supports the Syrian opposition.

The cease-fire was supposed to prepare the way for the talks in the Kazakh capital of Astana, in what would be the first substantial diplomatic movement toward ending the conflict in nearly a year. Russia, Turkey, and Iran had agreed to broker those talks. Russia is also a key ally of Assad.

Cavusoglu warned the Astana process "might fail if we cannot stop the escalating violations," in remarks made to Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency.

The foreign minister also said he had received assurances from Russia that the Kurdish Syrian PYD party would not be invited to Astana. Turkey considers the party and its armed wing an extension of its own, outlawed Kurdish insurgency and classifies it as a terror organization.

The PYD controls most of the Syrian-Turkish frontier. Its armed wing enjoys the backing of the U.S. military, and is the most effective ground force battling the Islamic State group in Syria.

The Associated Press