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Powerful Syrian Rebel Group Says Won't Attend Peace Talks In Kazakhstan

A file photo of fighters from Ahrar al-Sham, which is one of the most powerful rebel groups in war-torn Syria.

One of Syria's most powerful rebel groups, the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham, said it will not attend peace talks scheduled to be held in Kazakhstan on January 23.

Ahrar al-Sham said on its social media site on January 18 that it will not go, but it would support any decisions "in the interest of the nation" that might be negotiated by other rebel groups that are joining the talks sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

Other leading rebel groups and representatives of the Syrian regime are expected to be there.

The talks come after a cease-fire brokered by Russia and Turkey last month that has reduced, but not ended, fighting between rebels and pro-government forces.

Ahrar al-Sham said its stance was due to continued military activity by the Syrian army and Russian air strikes, and was aimed at preventing new divisions between rebels who support and oppose the talks.
Ahrar al-Sham has tried to maintain good relations with nationalist Sunni rebel groups supported by Turkey and the United States as well as militant factions like the Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fateh al-Sham.

It has shunned the extremist Islamic State however, which along with the Al-Qaeda affiliate, has been excluded from the talks.

Based on reporting by AFP and Reuters