GENEVA (AP) — The first face-to-face meetings between Syria’s warring sides in three years were wrapping up Friday, with a UN mediator struggling to build enough momentum for a more constructive second round to break through the deadly impasse.
The week-long negotiations have been strained over issues such as the opposition’s demand for — and the government’s resistance to — a transfer of power in Syria. The talks have so far failed to achieve any concrete results, including the passage of humanitarian aid convoys to besieged parts of the central city of Homs.
The government and opposition delegations met with UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, who planned to reconvene the talks later this month. He was to brief journalists following the meeting.
A day earlier, he said the week produced “tense moments and rather promising moments” and said he hoped that all parties could be better organized in the next session.
On Thursday, Syrian negotiators observed a minute of silence to honor the tens of thousands of people who have died in their country’s civil war — a rare moment of unity in talks otherwise marked by divisions and bitterness. Syrian activists say around 1,900 people were killed in clashes at home during the week of talks in Switzerland alone.
The fact that the negotiations — aimed at ending the three-year civil war that has killed more than 130,000 people — continued for the entire week was seen by many as an encouraging start. But the two sides continue to blame each other for the violence in Syria and remain deeply divided over how to end the war and if Syria’s future government should include President Bashar Assad.
The opposition is demanding a transitional governing body with full executive powers and wants Assad to step down. The government delegation says that’s a nonstarter and has insisted that the talks focus first on ending the violence.
About 200 pro-government demonstrators gathered Friday outside the UN building in Geneva to show their support for Assad.
“We are with the peace negotiations. Syria needs peace. Weapons will not benefit us. We are with peace and peace comes by talks,” said protester Sabah Kasouha, who used to live in Homs and now lives in Switzerland. “When all the countries stop funding the rebels who came from many countries to destroy Syria, then we will be fine.”
President Bashar Assad’s family, from Syria’s Alawite minority, has ruled the country since 1970, but other religious minorities have been pulled into its political orbit while rebellions by members of Syria’s Sunni majority were crushed.
The Syrian uprising began with largely peaceful calls for reform in March 2001 and escalated into armed conflict in response to a military crackdown. It has since transformed into a regional proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia supporting opposing sides. Foreign fighters and Islamic extremists have infiltrated the opposition rebels, triggering infighting that has undermined the rebellion against Assad.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.