Bashar Assad

Talks on Syria's civil war off to a rocky start

Talks between the Syrian government and representatives of rebel factions got off to a rocky start Monday after their first face-to-face meeting in Kazakhstan that marked a major shift in the war's dynamics and confirmed Russia's role as regional heavyweight.

The gathering in Astana, the Kazakh capital, is the latest in a long line of diplomatic initiatives aimed at ending the nearly 6-year-old civil war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced half of Syria's population.

The talks are focused on shoring up a shaky cease-fire declared Dec. 30, not on reaching a larger political settlement. Syria's bitter divide was on vivid display as the delegates...

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