Second round of Syrian peace talks open in toxic atmosphere

Each side accuses the other of firing on UN convoys in Homs

Lakhdar Brahimi: presents delegations with work plan for negotiations

Lakhdar Brahimi: presents delegations with work plan for negotiations

Tue, Feb 11, 2014, 01:00

The second round of Syrian peace negotiations in Geneva were launched in a toxic atmosphere yesterday as the government and opposition accused each other’s fighters in Homs of firing on UN convoys escorting hundreds of civilians from the besieged old city.

The ceasefire, agreed at the end of the first round of talks, has become a bone of contention rather than a confidence-building measure.

Nevertheless, the Syrian Red Crescent and UN evacuated another 300 people, boosting the overall total to 1,000 on the fourth day of the ceasefire as UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi held separate talks at the Palais des Nations with the delegations.

Mr Brahimi presented the sides with an eight-page document laying out the work plan for the negotiations, expected to last a week.


Authority
The paper focused on ending the fighting and forming a transitional authority to assume executive powers while retaining state institutions such as the army, security services, and bureaucracy. “The two issues are among the most complex and sensitive and both subjects need treatment over several sessions and long discussions,” the document said. “But the future of this political process and the possibility of success require a clear declaration from the outside that the two parties have the full and strong political will to deal” with them.

Mr Brahimi plans to discuss the issues separately with the delegations before convening joint sessions.

The expatriate opposition Syrian National Council delegation gave Mr Brahimi a 1,000-page dossier said to provide evidence of government war crimes as well as a demand for the prompt creation of the transitional body, a demand rejected by the government.


Priority
The government handed Mr Brahimi a document calling on him to give priority to combating terrorism and to condemn the killing of 21 civilians and 20 local guards by fighters from the radical fundamentalist Jund al-Aqsa in the Hama province village of Maan, inhabited mainly by heterdox Shia Alawites, the community of President Bashar al-Assad.

Meanwhile, al-Qaeda renegade Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has, reportedly, withdrawn from the oil-rich eastern province of Deir al-Zor, after clashes with rival rebel groups.

A third shipment of chemical weapons left Syria, reported the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which said other materials had been destroyed in the country and urged the Syrian authorities to “expedite . . . high-volume movements to complete the safe removal of chemical materials”.