Syria negotiations bring offer of exit from besieged Homs

Syria negotiations bring offer of exit from besieged Homs

PanARMENIAN.Net - The Syrian government said women and children could leave the besieged rebel city of Homs on Sunday, Jan 26 as negotiators from the warring sides discussed humanitarian gestures on a second day of face-to-face talks in Geneva, according to Reuters.

Government and opposition delegates also spoke of releasing prisoners and enabling access for aid convoys during what the UN mediator acknowledged was a slow process but one which he hopes will lead on Monday to broaching the central issue that divides them after three years of civil war - namely Syria's political future and that of President Bashar al-Assad.

Homs, occupying a strategic location in the center of the country, has been a key battleground. Assad's forces retook many of the surrounding areas last year, leaving rebels under siege in the city center, along with thousands of civilians.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told a news conference after Sunday's meetings that the government would let women and children leave the city center if rebels gave them safe passage. UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said he understood that they would be free to quit Homs immediately.

Mekdad said: "If the armed terrorists in Homs allow women and children to leave the old city of Homs, we will allow them every access. Not only that, we will provide them with shelter, medicines and all that is needed.

"We are ready to allow any humanitarian aid to enter into the city through the ... arrangements made with the UN"

In the city itself, however, opposition activists said rebels demanded a complete end to the blockade and opposed a limited ceasefire. An online video showed demonstrators with Islamist flags denouncing the Geneva talks as "treachery".

Brahimi, who presided on Saturday over the first direct meeting between the two delegations, met both together again on Sunday morning, before holding discussions with each side separately in the afternoon.

At another joint session on Monday, he hopes to begin discussion of a UN plan for a transitional government.

There was little sign of a softening of positions on the core issue - whether or not Assad should quit now, as the opposition and their Western and Arab backers say was agreed by a UN conference at Geneva 18 months ago.

"The president of the Syrian Arab Republic stays until the Syrian people says something else," said Mekdad, repeating the government position that Assad can stay and win an election.

For the opposition, spokesman Louay Safi said Monday's session with Brahimi would show if the government was willing to negotiate.

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