President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday called for shoring up Syria's frail truce as Russian-led peace talks involving Syrian rebels and regime officials are set to begin Wednesday in Kazakhstan's capital Astana.
"We consider that this situation -- the ceasefire -- needs to be strengthened, and this is precisely what our representatives will work on tomorrow and the day after in Astana together with the sides in the Syrian conflict," Putin said at a news conference in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
"Our task is to create conditions for unification, the cessation of hostilities, the cessation of mutual destruction and the creation of conditions for the political cooperation of all opposing sides."
The two days of talks -- sponsored by Syrian regime supporters Russia and Iran along with rebel-backer Turkey -- are the first since U.S. President Donald Trump infuriated the Kremlin by launching a missile strike against Assad's forces over an alleged chemical weapons attack last month.
A rebel delegation led by Mohammad Alloush, leader of the Jaish al-Islam faction, has arrived in Astana for the talks, Kazakhstan's foreign ministry said Tuesday.
An adviser to the main opposition High Negotiations Committee (HNC), Yehya Aridi, told AFP that the group would participate in the talks with "approximately" the same delegation as in previous rounds of negotiations.
The rebels did not separately confirm Alloush's participation. Regime negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari will lead the Damascus delegation.
U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura will also take part in the talks which could pave the way for a new round of U.N.-brokered peace negotiations in Geneva this month, the United Nations said Monday.