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Middle east

Syrian regime and opposition agree to direct talks

© Photo: AFP

Video by Joseph TANDY

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-01-24

Delegations representing the Syrian regime opposition have agreed to meet in the same room for direct talks on Saturday, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said Friday.

"I met the delegations of the opposition and the government separately yesterday and again today and tomorrow we expect, we have agreed, that we will meet in the same room," Brahimi told journalists.

The meeting would start at the United Nations in Geneva at 10am (0900 GMT), he said, while topics on the agenda will include a possible deal to provide humanitarian access to the besieged city of Homs, according to a diplomatic source.

A first face-to-face meeting between the two warring sides since the Syrian conflict broke out almost three years ago had been due to take place Friday as part of the ongoing Geneva 2 peace talks.

But attempts to bring the government and opposition delegations together initially stumbled, prompting Brahimi to speak to both sides separately in an effort to bring them both to the negotiating table.

Government threatens to quit peace talks

That goal had at first seemed a long way off however, with Syria’s government delegation  threatening to quit the peace conference altogether earlier on Friday.

Syrian state television said Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had told Brahimi that "should serious sessions fail to take place tomorrow, the official Syrian delegation will leave Geneva".

Muallem told Brahimi “the Syrian delegation is serious and ready to start, but the other side is not,” it said.

The opposition had been refusing to meet with the regime’s representatives until the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had first signed up to a 2012 protocol, known as Geneva 1, that calls for an interim government to oversee a transition to a new political order.

But following Brahimi’s announcement, an opposition delegate member said this issue had now been resolved.

“We are satisfied with Mr Brahimi’s statement today and that the regime has accepted Geneva 1 (communique). And on this basis we will meet the Assad delegation tomorrow morning,” Anas al-Abdah told Reuters.

“It will be a short session in which only Brahimi will speak, to be followed by another session, a longer session in the afternoon,” he added.

Practical steps

Brahimi has indicated that his aim is to start by seeking practical steps, like local ceasefires, prisoner releases and access for international aid deliveries, before embarking on the tougher political negotiations.

Speaking to Reuters, a diplomatic source said Friday evening that the Syrian government and opposition have agreed to discuss over the next two days a possible deal to provide aid to Homs, where rebels are surrounded in central districts by forces loyal to Assad, as part of confidence building measures.

“The practical aspects have been worked on, things are ready and if the government doesn’t put a block on it then it could happen quickly.”

Syria’s civil war has already killed at least 130,000 people, driven up to a third of the country’s 22 million people from their homes and made half dependent on aid, including hundreds of thousands cut off by fighting.

Among the hurdles to progress, the Islamist militants who control most rebel-held territory are boycotting the talks and say anyone attending negotiations that fail to bring down Assad would be traitors.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-01-24

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