Syria's warring factions meet in Geneva on Monday for a fresh round of peace talks, 10 days after the first face-to-face meetings between both sides in Syria's civil war secured a deal to allow civilians to leave the besieged city of Homs.
Government and opposition delegates held separate closed-door meetings with UN-Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi shortly after they arrived on Sunday.
Brahimi is a veteran Algerian peacemaker who in late January brought the two sides to the table for the first time since the civil war began in March 2011.
He is scheduled to meet with opposition delegates before talks with the government delegation, headed by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who also led the regime team in the first round of talks.
It was not clear if the two sides would sit down together on Monday, nor how many days the talks were expected to last.
The so-called Geneva II talks – encouraged by the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a key ally of Syria – mark the biggest international push so far to end the war.
The aim is to build on an international conference held in Geneva in 2012 at which world powers including the UN called for political transition in Syria.
That plan was never implemented, however, owing to spiralling fighting in Syria's increasingly sectarian conflict, and deep divisions between the two sides over what a transition would imply -- specifically, whether there would be any role in a future Syria for President Bashar al-Assad.
Assad insists on staying
The Assad regime, whose crackdown on Arab Spring-inspired demonstrations in March 2011 sparked the wider civil conflict, insists that his future cannot be up for discussion in Geneva.
But the opposition counters that there is no place for him or his allies in a post-war Syria.
Besides entrenched disagreement on the make-up of a transitional government, the two sides also do not see eye to eye on which other issues should be on the table.
The regime insists that the talks should focus on fighting "terrorism" -- its term for the opposition rebels, whose anti-Assad movement it says has been fuelled by foreign jihadists and money from the Gulf States.
The opposition, in turn, wants discussions to address Assad's moves to starve out opposition-held areas, notably in Homs; using explosives-packed "barrel bombs" dropped from helicopters; and using fighters from Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shiite militia.
The Syria war has claimed more than 136,000 lives and driven millions from their homes, many of whom have fled to neighbouring Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, raising fears of a regional spillover of the conflict.
The only tangible result from the first Geneva round, which ran from January 24-31, was that civilians could be evacuated from besieged opposition-held areas of the central city of Homs.
Inhabitants of the districts have faced daily bombardment and have been reduced to living off little more than olives and herbs after more than 600 days under siege.
But with both sides trading blame for the situation, there was no progress on an evacuation or aid deliveries into the embattled zones during the Geneva talks.
By Sunday, 600 people of the 3,000 trapped in the city had been evacuated. The evacuees -- mainly women, children and elderly men -- were brought out by the United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent on what was the third day of an operation to deliver humanitarian aid to Homs.
The regime and rebels accused each other of violating a UN-brokered truce for besieged districts of Syria's third city that began on Friday.
Homs, much of which has been reduced to rubble, was dubbed "the capital of the revolution" by activists before a bloody 2012 offensive by regime forces recaptured much of the city.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
Date created : 2014-02-10