Brahimi hopeful for Syria talks, despite 1,900 new deaths

Photo: Brahimi hopeful for Syria talks, despite 1,900 new deaths / Arabic region

This week's talks between the Syrian government and opposition delegations could be a foundation upon which the two sides can build, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said Friday, even as the first round of negotiations ended with no substantial progress, dpa reported.

"As far as I know, there was immense hope when this conference started. People are already starting to feel disappointed, but I tell them things have gone so far down that they are not going to get out of the ditch overnight," Brahimi said in Geneva.

"But it is a beginning on which we can build."

Brahimi said the gap between the two sides remained wide. "During our discussion, I observed a little bit of common ground, perhaps more than the two sides recognize."

Brahimi said the two sides should meet again on February 10, though only the opposition side has agreed to the date.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said his government had not taken yet a decision of whether to attend the next round of negotiations.

"The President (Bashar al-Assad) will read our reports. Then he will decide if we should continue negotiations," al-Maollem told reporters in Geneva.

Meanwhile, Ahmed al-Jarb, head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, said the opposition was ready for further talks.

"Despite the regime's failure to commit itself, we renew our keenness to return to the negotiations," al-Jarb told reporters.

He described the first round of negotiations as a "political battle against a regime adept in wasting time."

The statements came after a pro-opposition watchdog said that at least 1,900 people have been killed in Syria since the peace talks opened in Switzerland more than a week ago.

"The toll covers the period from January 22 until midnight of January 30," Rami Abdel-Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said.

The dead included 498 civilians killed by airstrikes, shelling and sniper fire.

Some 72 more people have died from starvation due to the regime's siege of rebel-held areas in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, according to the Britain-based observatory.

During the Geneva talks, the negotiators failed to reach agreement on how to get humanitarian aid to those suffering under the 600-day-old siege of Homs in central Syria.

Some 3,000 residents have been trapped in the city's old quarter, suffering an acute shortage of basic supplies. Many of its buildings are rubble.

The conference - as envisaged by sponsoring powers the United States and Russia - was aimed at forming a transitional governing body in Syria.

Under a framework agreed to in June 2012 and backed by a UN Security Council resolution last year, the transitional body would include: members of al-Assad's government; the opposition; and independent figures. It would have full executive powers.

Brahimi said both sides were committed to discussing full implementation of the Geneva communique.

Syrian state television reported that dozens of al-Assad supporters gathered near the UN headquarters in Geneva to show their support for the regime and the army, chanting "God bless Syria." Some were carrying flags and pictures of al-Assad.

Addressing the crowd, Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said his country's delegation would not make any concessions in the Geneva II negotiations.

The talks have brought together the government and the opposition for the first time since Syria's crisis started in March 2011.

The Syrian Observatory of Human Rights, which has a network of activists inside Syria, says the conflict has claimed at least 130,000 lives.

The United Nations this month said it had stopped counting the dead, citing an inability to access conflict zones. In July, it put the toll at 100,000.

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