Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday that Mohammad Alloush, the leader of the so-called Jaish al-Islam group, arrived in Astana at the head of a delegation earlier in the day for attending peace negotiations.
This is the fourth round of talks between the Syrian government and the foreign-backed opposition in Kazakhstan. Russia, Iran and Turkey sponsor the initiative. The militants, who snubbed the previous round in March, will hold talks with the Damascus delegation, led by Bashar al-Ja'afari, who is Syria’s top negotiator and the country’s envoy to the UN.
Alloush is a notorious figure known for committing crimes against civilians and security forces in Syria, especially in areas around the capital, Damascus. He is an extremist Salafi who enjoys vast support from Saudi Arabia.
The UN said on Monday that its special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, would also attend the Astana talks in a bid to facilitate the process for holding UN-brokered peace negotiations in Geneva this month. Talks in Astana, which began in January, have been viewed as complementary to the talks in Geneva, although both initiatives have failed to produce a settlement to the conflict.
The United States will also send Stuart Jones, acting assistant Secretary of State for the Near East Affairs Bureau, to observe the talks. That would raise the level of US presence in the negotiations as Washington had only dispatched its ambassador to Astana to the previous rounds. Reports have said US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin would hold a phone conversation on Tuesday to discuss Syria.
Syria has been fighting foreign-sponsored militancy since March 2011.
United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated in August last year that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the war until then. The UN stopped its official casualty count in the war-torn country, citing its inability to verify the figures it received from various sources.