Diplomats from Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the United States have begun a fifth round of Syria peace talks in Astana with the Syrian government and representatives of some Syrian opposition groups.
Staffan de Mistura, the United Nations secretary-general's special envoy on
Syria, is also attending the two-day meeting in Kazakhstan's capital.
The Astana talks -- sponsored by Russia, Iran, and Turkey -- are separate negotiations from UN-sponsored talks in Geneva.
Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry said the talks on July 4 were being conducted as bilateral meetings between delegation members.
The meetings were reportedly focusing on a December cease-fire under a de-escalation agreement that was brokered in Astana by Russia, Turkey, and Iran.
Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov said there were nine representatives of Syria's armed opposition at the talks on July 4.
But he said the delegation did not include armed opposition leader Muhammad Alloush, who led opposition delegates at earlier rounds of the Astana talks in January, February, and May.
When asked who was in charge of the Syrian armed opposition's delegation, Abdrakhmanov told reporters, "That's their internal affair."
The armed opposition did not take part in the third round of negotiations hosted by Kazakhstan.
The head of the Syrian government delegation, Bashar al-Jaafari, was meeting on the sidelines of the gathering on July 4 with the head of Iran's delegation, Deputy Foreign Minister Hoessein Jaberi Ansari.
The U.S. representative at the meeting is Stuart Jones, the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Near East affair bureau.
Russia's delegation is headed by President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Syrian settlement, Aleksandr Lavrentyev.
The delegation of Turkey is led by Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal.
Shortly before the talks in Astana began, the U.S. military announced that U.S.-backed opposition forces in Syria had breached the wall surrounding the Old City of Raqqa in their battle to take the city from the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
"Coalition forces supported the [Syrian Democratic Forces, SDF] advance into the most heavily fortified portion of Raqqa by opening two small gaps in the Rafiqah Wall that surrounds the Old City," U.S. Central Command said late on July 3.
Centcom said the SDF faced heavy resistance at the wall from IS fighters who used it as a combat position and planted mines and improvised explosive devices against advancing forces.
"Conducting targeted strikes on two small portions of the wall allowed coalition and partner forces to breach the Old City at locations of their choosing, denied ISIS the ability to use pre-positioned mines...protected SDF and civilian lives, and preserved the integrity of the greatest portion of the wall," the U.S. statement said.
"The portions targeted were 25-meter sections and will help preserve the remainder of the overall 2,500-meter wall," it added.
IS militants, who are not taking part in the Syrian peace talks in Astana or Geneva, have lost control of large swathes of territory they had seized in Syria in recent years.
The IS has said that Raqqa is its self-declared capital within Syria.
With reporting by Interfax, TASS, Reuters, AP, and AFP
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