A first round of peace talks on Syria wrapped up Friday with both sides in entrenched positions and the UN mediator expressing frustration that he had not even produced agreement for an aid convoy to rescue trapped civilians in a besieged city.
After a week of talks at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, the opposing sides in Syria's civil war were still stuck on the question of how to proceed. Friday's closing session was expected to be largely ceremonial, with government and opposition delegates expected to meet again around February 10, Reuters reported.
"I hope that in the next session, when we come back, we will be able to have a more structured discussion," mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said.
However, the Syrian government delegation to peace talks in Geneva said it needs to consult with Damascus before it can confirm it will return for a second round on Feb 10, Brahimi said on Friday, after the close of the first round.
"They didn't tell me that they are thinking of not coming. On the contrary, they said that they would come but they needed to check with their capital," Brahimi told a news conference in Geneva. He said the opposition delegation had confirmed it would come back.
Brahimi listed 10 "simple" points that he felt the two sides agreed on in the talks and said he thought there was more common ground than the two sides recognized. He has asked both sides to return to work on a prepared agenda after a week's break.
He was "very, very disappointed" that a UN aid convoy was still waiting fruitlessly to enter the rebel-held Old City of Homs.
UN spokesman Jens Laerke said negotiations were still under way with both sides on the ground to try to get the aid convoy through: "Unfortunately, I have just received an update that there is no movement on that convoy as of this morning."
With no achievements on substance, diplomats say the priority now is just to keep the talks process going in the hope that hardline positions can be modified over time.
The first meeting between President Bashar al-Assad's government and foes in three years of war began last week with an international conference at which both sides set out firm positions from which they never yielded.
The talks repeatedly seemed on the verge of collapse before they began, and just getting the delegates to sit in the same room was deemed an achievement.
The sides took a first tentative step forward on Wednesday by agreeing to use a 2012 document as a basis for discussions, but it was soon clear that they were still at odds.
While the opposition wants to address the transitional body first, the government says the first step is to discuss terrorism. U.S. and Russian officials, co-sponsors of the conference, have been in Geneva respectively advising the opposition and government delegations.
The 2012 agenda was drawn up at a time when Western countries mainly believed Assad's days were numbered. But the past year has seen his position improve on the ground and diplomatically.
Carnage has continued, with nearly a third of Syria's 22 million people driven from their homes and sectarian violence spreading to neighboring Lebanon and Iraq.
Army inflicts heavy losses on Takfiris
Meanwhile, the Syrian army carried out large-scale military operations against foreign-backed terrorist groups in several areas across the violence-stricken country.
Syrian army forces managed to kill many Takfiri militants in the suburbs of the country’s northwestern city of Idlib, destroying their weapons and ammunition, Syria’s official news agency SANA reported on Thursday.
Meanwhile, a number of extremist militants were killed in the countryside of Aleppo in northwestern Syria. Army units also destroyed terrorist hideouts in the area.
The Syrian forces launched similar mop-up operations in the cities of Dara’a, Homs and Dayr al-Zawr.
According to the report, scores of foreign-backed militants, including Saudi and Tunisian nationals, were killed in the army operations in the eastern city of Dayr al-Zawr.
Army sources also said a large number of heavy weapons had been seized from militant hideouts during the offensives.
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