TEHRAN (Press Shia Agency) – Senior US and Russian officials held talks on Wednesday aimed at agreeing on how to separate al Qaeda-linked terrorists from rebel fighters in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo so as to pave the way for a ceasefire.

US special envoy for Syria Michael Ratney led Washington’s delegation, while Moscow sent military experts whose names were not released, Reuters reported.

They were joined by officials from regional powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, but not Syria’s ally Iran which was not invited, a Western diplomat said. The Syrian warring sides themselves were not at the table.

“The idea is to engage the Russians in a discussion on the issue,” the Western diplomat said before the meeting held at the UN European headquarters in Geneva.

The talks follow a meeting between the United States and its allies on Tuesday that aimed to coordinate efforts toward a new ceasefire, after Russia announced it had halted air strikes on Aleppo.

Russia favors a UN proposal to evacuate terrorists belonging to the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham group from the besieged zone of eastern Aleppo in return for a ceasefire.

Russia has said a planned eight-hour ceasefire on Thursday will be extended if other militants clearly distance themselves from the Takfiri group, but it will not prolong the pause unilaterally.

The last ceasefire fell apart in September following repeated violations by Takfiri terrorists.

Aleppo, once Syria’s commercial and industrial hub, has been divided roughly in two since 2012, with the government controlling the west and terrorists the east.

Syria has been gripped by civil war since March 2011 with various terrorist groups, including Daesh (also known as ISIS or ISIL), currently controlling parts of it.

According to a report by the Syrian Center for Policy Research, the conflict has claimed the lives of over 470,000 people, injured 1.9 million others, and displaced nearly half of the country’s pre-war population of about 23 million within or beyond its borders.