Aid to besieged city of Homs discussed in Syria talks

Jan. 25, 2014 at 2:59 PM
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GENEVA, Switzerland, Jan. 25 (UPI) -- Syrian government and opposition leaders will address providing food and medical aid to residents in the besieged city of Homs, officials said.

The news comes after the first day of face-to-face negotiations between the two sides diplomats hope will be the start of ending the country's bloody nearly three-year civil war.

United Nations Special Envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who is acting as mediator during the meetings, said while members of the rival delegations have not yet actually spoken to one another, they were in the same room, sitting around a U-shaped table in Geneva, Switzerland. Members of both sides spoke addressed Brahimi rather than one another, CNN said.

Rather, Brahimi spoke for 30 minutes with delegates from the two sides before ending the session, the BBC reported. He said the process was off to "a good beginning."

A second session was planned for Saturday afternoon, but delegates said their expectations for the talks are minimal. Rather than a peace deal, they are hoping for small concessions including opening a humanitarian corridor to Homs and arranging local ceasefires.

Shortly after the first meeting, the chief of staff to the leader of the opposition National Coalition said the process of transitioning to a democratic government in Syria had begun.

"You know dictators usually, they don't like to listen," said Monzer Akbik. "But today they had to listen to us and to the voice of the Syrian people that they want transition from dictatorship to democracy."

The opposition delegation says its first priority is discussing the formation of a transitional government body.

The possibility of Syrian President Bashar Assad stepping down was "not the priority" of the talks, said Bashar Jafari, Syria's ambassador to the United States and a member of government delegation.

"Item number one should be putting an end to the terrorism and to the violence," he said.

Diplomats including U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed cautious optimism the two sides were finally facing one another.

"We had extremely hard negotiations this week on Syria; nobody said this would be an easy process," Ban said.

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