Representatives of Syria’s government and opposition forces sat at the same table yesterday for the first time since the start of peace talks hosted by the United Nations, speaking to each other through a mediator.
The focus of the talks was the humanitarian situation in the central city of Homs, Lakhdar Brahimi, the Algerian official leading the UN mediation effort, said at a news conference in Geneva. The opposition said earlier it will offer the regime of President Bashar al-Assad a cease-fire in the city, which is under government siege. About 4,000 people remain trapped there, according to the UN.
Brahimi said the ultimate goal is for a convoy of aid, including food, non-food and medical items, to be allowed into the city by Jan. 27. Discussions tomorrow will center on the release of prisoners, he said.
Starting with humanitarian issues is a prelude to “the people getting accustomed to talking to each other,” Brahimi said. “We hope that will be easier.”
“If we achieve success on Homs, we hope that this would be the beginning to discuss other issues,” he said.
The UN is leading international efforts to bring an end to Syria’s three-year civil war, which has killed at least 130,000 people and caused 2.4 million to flee their homeland.
Since talks began in Montreux, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, the two sides have remained far apart on whether Assad can play a part in a transitional government that is the goal of the UN-backed process.
Before the two delegations sat together yesterday, they had been negotiating in separate rooms, with Brahimi shuttling between them.
In yesterday’s two sessions, each side addressed Brahimi separately, with no handshaking or any interaction between the groups, Rafif Jouejati, an opposition spokeswoman, said by phone.
Brahimi stressed that the talks, expected to last about a week, will “without doubt” tackle Geneva I, the international agreement reached in June 2012 that calls for establishing a transitional government in Syria by mutual consent.
The UN mediator has acknowledged that the sides have different interpretations of Assad’s future in a political transition. The opposition has said that Assad can have no role, a position backed by the U.S. and its European and Arab allies. Russia, one of Assad’s main allies, disputes that view, arguing that the formation of a transitional government doesn’t mean regime change.
Source : bloomberg