Syrian government, rebels set to begin face-to-face talks

Photo: Syrian government, rebels set to begin face-to-face talks  / Arab World

The Syrian government and the opposition are to sit down at the negotiating table for the first time ever Friday in a bid to bring an end to the three-year-old conflict, dpa reported.

They are set to meet at the UN's offices in Geneva, Switzerland, where it is believed talks will centre on the release of prisoners and detainees and the possibility of opening besieged towns and villages to humanitarian aid deliveries.

The two sides clashed openly over the conference's focus at a launch ceremony Wednesday in the Swiss town of Montreux.

Representatives from Damascus insisted the gathering be devoted to tackling the threat of "terrorism" from extremist groups operating inside the country.

But the Syrian National Coalition of the Opposition (SNC) demanded that negotiations open with discussions on the formation of an interim government and the departure o President Bashar al-Assad - a stipulation that the regime has ruled out as a "red line."

On the eve of the face-to-face talks, the two ides continued to trade barbs, with SNC President Ahmad Jarba dismissing Damascus as a "dying" and "criminal" regime and Syrian officials questioning the legitimacy of the coalition.

Nevertheless, opposition delegates remained hopeful that progress could be made toward finding a solution to end the violence that has claimed more than 130,000 lives.

"We know that the road to an agreement over a political solution is a long one, but every journey starts with a first step," Burhan Ghalioun, an opposition delegate, told dpa.

Should the initial two-day talks prove a success, opposition delegates and mediators expect the negotiations to stretch on from several weeks to six month, rotating to different European cities.

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