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.
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.
After a series of meetings in Astana, President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for the Syrian settlement, Aleksandr Lavrentyev, said Russia might deploy its military to police the borders of de-escalation zones in Syria within two to three weeks after finalizing a deal with Turkey and Iran.
Moscow, Ankara, and Tehran are yet to agree the details of the plan, the Russian diplomat told reporters, saying, "Everything will be discussed today and tomorrow."
Meanwhile, a representative of Syria’s opposition in Astana was quoted as saying that the rebels disagreed with Iran monitoring de-escalation areas.
"No, we don't agree,” Interfax news agency quoted Yaher Abdrahim as saying. "The entire opposition does not agree to the Iranian forces' presence."
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.
Besides Lavrentyev, the Astana talks were being attended by Syrian envoy Bashar al-Jaafari, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hoessein Jaberi Ansari, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal, and the acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Near East affairs bureau, Stuart Jones.
Fighting In Raqqa
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