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Aleppo Liberation Stepping Stone Toward Syria Peace

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (L) shakes hands with Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy advisor to the Leader of Islamic Revolution, in Tehran on Jan. 1. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem (L) shakes hands with Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy advisor to the Leader of Islamic Revolution, in Tehran on Jan. 1.

Syria's top diplomat said the Arab government, by engaging in a Russia-Turkey brokered ceasefire, wants the liberation of Aleppo to help open the door to intra-Syrian negotiations aimed at the political settlement of the lingering crisis.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem made the statement in a meeting with Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy advisor to the Leader of Islamic Revolution, in Tehran on Sunday, IRNA reported.

The nationwide cessation of hostilities took effect at midnight on Thursday. It covers seven armed groups that control most of central and northern Syria and with more than 60,000 fighters, possess the bulk of the opposition forces' manpower. The truce came after the Syrian Army, which was engaged in a months-long operation to retake eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo, managed to encircle militants in a small pocket of the second biggest Syrian city last month.  Late December, a Russia-Turkey brokered deal for evacuation of gunmen to other militant-held areas handed the Syrian government a great triumph after nearly six years of war against foreign-backed militants wishing to bring it down.

  Time to Build Syria

Muallem said the halt of military operations has created a new opportunity for those who are willing to participate in building the future of Syria.

The ceasefire agreement, if it holds for a month, would mark a potential breakthrough and allow the start of negotiations between the government and opposition groups in Kazakhstan's capital, Astana.

The Syrian minister warned opposition groups not to lose their chance and sideline themselves by making non-negotiable demands in the Astana talks, adding that they must show that they really look for a political settlement of the conflict.

"To let Astana talks bear fruits, militants [affiliated to opposition groups] should separate themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra [recently rebranded as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham] and Islamic State," he said.

The two internationally-recognized terrorist groups and factions linked to them are not included in the ceasefire.

"These militants should also retreat from areas surrounding Aleppo, to let Aleppians have a feeling of security," he said.

Muallem described the liberation of Aleppo as "a common victory of Syria and Iran", praising Tehran's political, economic and military advisory support for the Syrian government in fighting terrorism and ending the fighting.

"We are satisfied with trilateral coordination among Iran, Russia and Syria, as it has proven effective in eradicating terrorism," he said.

Tehran has been providing Syrian troops with advisory services since the early months of the conflict and Russia has lent its airpower to the anti-terror push since September 2015. Velayati said both friends and enemies of Syria acknowledge that the liberation in Aleppo is "a victory of victories".

Muallem, along with Ali Mamlouk, the head of Syria's National Security Bureau, arrived in Tehran on Saturday for high-level talks.

On the same day, Muallem met his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, President Hassan Rouhani and Secretary of Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani.

 

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