Volume. 11907

Syria's warring sides meet face-to-face in Geneva
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c_330_235_16777215_0___images_stories_edim_Syria99(3).JPGThe Syrian peace talks got off to a tentative start, with the leaders of the rival delegations failing to attend the first face-to-face meeting and those present refusing to speak to each other directly.
Delegates for the Syrian government and the opposition Syrian National Coalition (SNC) met face-to-face for the first time in the meeting on Saturday at the UN's office in Geneva, according to Al Jazeera. 
However, neither Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem, the head of the regime delegation, and Ahmed al-Jarba, president and the head of the Syrian National Coalition delegation, were at the session. Nor did those in the same room talk to each other directly. Instead, the meeting was mediated by the UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, who passed messages between the two groups.
The talks in Geneva aimed to launch political negotiations on ending Syria's nearly three-year conflict, which has killed 130,000 people, displaced over third of Syria's 22 million population and destabilized the wider region.
"The first session has ended. Brahimi spoke for 30 minutes and none of the delegates said anything," opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah told reporters after the meeting, Reuters reported. 
The two sides entered and left the room through separate doors, Abdah added, and were due to meet again at 4:00 pm (1500 GMT) for discussions on humanitarian matters.
He said Brahimi told them the first two days of the talks would focus on negotiations to lift sieges of civilians including in the central city of Homs, as well as local ceasefires and humanitarian access, but the core of the negotiations should be about resolving the conflict.
The peace conference almost collapsed on Friday, the day face-to-face talks were meant to start, and was only saved after UN mediator Brahimi persuaded the two sides to focus on smaller issues on which agreement might emerge.
"We do expect some bumps on the road," Brahimi told a news conference on Friday after separate meetings with the parties.
With international divisions over how to end the conflict putting an overall political solution out of reach for now, the two sides will focus on small, confidence-building steps with no certainty negotiations will even last the week.
"Both parties will be here tomorrow (Sunday)...they will not leave on Saturday or Sunday," Brahimi said.
One diplomatic source, noting the caustic verbal attacks that marked the opening of the conference in the Swiss city of Montreux on Wednesday, said on Friday he had become cautious.
"Compared to 10 days ago, we've had Montreux with both delegations, this start in Geneva with an extra day's delay, tomorrow 30 minutes with the two delegations and then maybe a subject they can agree on. Small steps, but small steps are better than no steps."
"It's clear there will be hysterical episodes each day."
The opposition said early on Friday it would not meet the government side unless it first agreed to publicly endorse a 2012 statement by world powers calling for a transitional government in Syria.
The government rejected the demand and said its negotiators would leave Geneva unless serious talks began within a day.
After talking to both sides, Brahimi indicated on Friday afternoon that their argument, which centers on whether Assad would have to step down, had been put to one side.
Syria's Information Minister Omran Zoabi reiterated the government's rejection of a proposal to form a transitional ruling body
"We have complete reservations regarding it," he told reporters shortly before the meeting.
"Syria is a state with institutions," Zoabi added. "A transitional governing body ... happens where the state is in disintegration, or has no institutions."

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