Published On: Mon, Feb 10th, 2014

Syria Crisis: New Round Of Peace Talks To Begin In Geneva

The second round of peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition representatives is due to begin in Geneva on Monday.The first round of talks ended last month with no firm agreements and with both sides trading insults.New round of peace talks

However, UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said then that some “common ground” had been reached.

The talks come after hundreds of people were evacuated from the besieged city of Homs under a three-day truce.

The evacuations were completed despite mortar fire and shooting, which both sides blamed on each other and that activists say killed several people and wounded several others.

On Monday, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France and other countries would present a resolution at the UN calling for greater access for humanitarian aid.

“We are asking for stronger action as far as the humanitarian side is concerned, that medicines and food supplies are handed out in cities,” he told French radio.

“It is absolutely scandalous that there have been discussions for quite a while and that people are still being starved every day, and so along with a number of other countries, we will present a resolution at the UN along those lines.”

The civil conflict has claimed well over 100,000 lives since it began in 2011.

The violence has also driven 9.5 million people from their homes, creating a major humanitarian crisis within Syria and for its neighbours.

At the end of the last talks on 31 January, the two warring sides appeared to be a long way away from reaching any compromise.

The government insists the talks focus on fighting “terrorism” – its description of the uprising – but the opposition says that the priority should be the removal of President Bashar al-Assad.

It has insisted that the government commit in writing to the 2012 Geneva Communique, which called for the formation of a transitional administration with full executive authority.

President Assad’s government has emphatically ruled out any transfer of power.

Correspondents say that his position has been strengthened on the ground since the last round of talks because pro-Assad forces have made territorial gains while rival rebel forces have been fighting each other in the north and east of the country.

The BBC’s Bridget Kendall, in Geneva, says that as they prepare to meet again the gap between the warring sides seems as wide as ever.

The Homs operation will no doubt be discussed by the two opposing delegations, but it is hard to see how it will make them any more ready to collaborate, she adds.

Aid deliveries

Sunday was the final day of what was agreed as a three-day humanitarian truce in Homs.

The situation was discussed in Geneva, but the humanitarian aid deal was actually struck between the governor of Homs and the UN resident co-ordinator in Syria.

As well as evacuating hundreds of people over the weekend, UN and Syrian Red Crescent teams managed to deliver relief supplies to the Old Quarter, which has been besieged by government forces for more than a year.

The governor of Homs, Talal al-Barazi, has said the ceasefire may be extended by a further three days, to allow all those who might want to leave the chance to do so.

The army launched a series of major attacks to recapture rebel areas in the Old Quarter in the beginning of 2012, with almost daily bombardments.

Figures released by the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights show that rebel in-fighting, clashes with President Assad’s forces and government bombardments have escalated across Syria since the delegates held their first face-to-face meeting.

The Observatory said that 304 people were killed across the country on Saturday, including more than 100 civilians.

On Sunday, opposition activists said at least 11 people were killed in the northern city of Aleppo when government helicopters dropped barrel bombs – crude weapons comprising cylinders packed with explosives and metal fragments – on rebel-held neighbourhoods.