Middle East

Syria opposition demands government proposal for transition

A sick Syrian refugee lies on the floor of an abandoned building in Istanbul, Turkey (27 January 2014) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Some 9.5 million people have been displaced since the uprising began in March 2011

Syrian peace talks being held in Geneva have broken up early amid opposition demands that the government address the question of a transition of power.

Opposition spokesmen said they wanted the Syrian government to have time to come up with a proposal on the issue.

The talks are at an impasse over the issue, with division over the future role of President Bashar al-Assad.

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi also said that there had been no breakthrough on getting aid to the city of Homs.

'Not co-operating'

Government and opposition delegates held a joint session with Mr Brahimi on Tuesday morning.

On previous days that has been followed by separate consultations with Mr Brahimi and each of the two delegations in the afternoon, but on Tuesday the opposition delegation said this would not happen.

"The regime is not co-operating on any subject, not on humanitarian issues and not on a transitional governing body," opposition delegate Rima Fleihan told the AFP agency.

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Media captionUN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi says it is "not easy" to get aid in Homs

Another opposition delegate, Murhaf Jouejati, told Associated Press the delay would give the government time "to come out with their own vision for a future Syria".

Addressing a news conference later in the day, Mr Brahimi said: "We have not had any breakthrough but we are still at it and this is good enough as far as I am concerned."

He said that he had cancelled the meeting "with no request or pressure from either side".

Mr Brahimi also said that a convoy bearing humanitarian aid was still waiting to enter besieged parts of the city of Homs.

He said the government had not yet granted permission, adding that "we haven't given up on that".

The government has offered to allow women and children to leave opposition-held areas, and to grant safe passage to men as well if they receive a list of their names.

But the opposition has dismissed it as a ruse to displace and arrest its supporters.

Western diplomats have said that if aid is not allowed in by next week they will draft a resolution at the UN Security Council to put pressure on the government and its ally, Russia.

Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fighting between government and rebel forces is meanwhile raging on in Syria

Some 2,500 people have been trapped in the Old City of Homs since June 2012, without access to food and medical supplies.

On Tuesday, the governor of Homs province said a UN official was in contact with rebel fighters in besieged parts of the city to try to get civilians evacuated, while the UN's World Food Programme said it was ready to deliver a month of rations once it got clearance from both sides.

Opposition delegate in Geneva, Louay Safi, said that the rebel Free Syria Army was prepared to lift a siege on three Shia villages in the north, allegedly being used as bases by the government from which to attack Aleppo, if this came as part of a wider deal to lift sieges across the country.

'Dialogue of the deaf'

The third day of face-to-face meetings in Switzerland was said to have broken up after the government's representatives set out a "declaration of basic principles" that did not mention a political transition as demanded by the 2012 Geneva Communique, the basis of the negotiations.

Government spokeswoman Buthaina Shaaban said the principles included protecting Syria's sovereignty, preserving state institutions and stopping the threat from "terrorist" groups, the designation officials routinely use to describe Mr Assad's opponents.

The government's proposal also included a condemnation of the US decision to "resume arming terrorist groups in Syria".

"We were surprised that this basic paper was rejected by the other side," Ms Shaaban said.

Mr Jouejati said the discussions had ended on a "sour note" after the government delegation became confrontational.

"We thought there was no point in continuing this since it was going to be a dialogue of the deaf," he said.

The National Coalition insists the government must agree to the full implementation of the Geneva Communique, which it says means Mr Assad will have no role to play in Syria's future.

The government says its delegation will not "hand over power to anyone".

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US, which organised the negotiations along with the UN and Russia, was "realistic about how difficult this is going to be, but we are completely convinced that this is the only way forward".

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov meanwhile called for progress on aid, besieged areas and prisoner exchanges.

Fighting between government and rebel forces is meanwhile raging on in Syria, with activists saying about 100 people are being killed each day.

More than 100,000 people have died and another 9.5 million have been displaced since the uprising against President Assad began in 2011.

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