Syria peace talks score small first success

A general view of the so-called Geneva II peace talks dedicated to the ongoing conflict in Syria, Jan. 22, 2014 Getty

GENEVA - The U.N. mediator brokering peace talks on Syria's civil war says the two sides have reached a deal to allow women and children to leave a city under government siege for more than a year.

Lakhdar Brahimi acknowledged Sunday that the step was a small one - he had hoped for an agreement to let humanitarian aid into the city of Homs. But the agreement was the first tangible outcome from peace talks that have been marred from the outset by low expectations and acrimony.

Brahimi defended the pace of the talks, which have yet to touch upon the issue of President Bashar Assad's future.

"You may gain one hour and lose one week," he said.

The governor of Homs, Talal Barazi, told CBS News’ George Baghdadi that he has been trying to get humanitarian aid with U.N. assistance to the area for weeks, long before the Geneva conference began.

“The last meeting with the UN officials took place last Friday. They did praise our cooperation and the way we handle the humanitarian issue,” Barazi said.

“Most of the hotspots in the countryside of Homs, including Talbisa, Rastan, Holeh, Zaafaraneh … etc, were provided with essential assistance -– water, electricity -- a while ago, and we have done our best to get medicine and other important commodities as well before talks started in Geneva,” he added, underlining that humanitarian assistance should reach all Syrian cities and towns, not only the city of Homs.

Brahimi said the thorniest topic - a possible transitional government - will not come up until at least Monday.

He said late Saturday that the two sides would first try to come together over humanitarian aid and a possible prisoner exchange, describing a process of "half-steps."

"I think this belittles the importance of this conference and the goal that was drawn for it," said Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to Assad.

The Western-backed opposition, made up largely of exiled Syrians, says Assad has lost legitimacy and can no longer lead a country after unleashing the military on largely peaceful protests nearly three years ago.

The government says the rebellion is rife with terrorists and that Assad is the only person able to end the fighting that has killed more than 130,000 people.

In the meantime, the homegrown rebellion has become a regional proxy warbetween Iran and Saudi Arabia, with foreign fighters flooding in on both sides.

Homs was considered a promising place to start the negotiations.

The city was one of the first areas that plunged into armed conflict in 2011. Neighborhoods in the old city have been ravaged following repeated government assaults to reclaim control from rebels.

The city had a pre-war population of 1 million, but most residents have since fled. Activists say about 800 families are trapped, without regular access to food, medicine and basic necessities.

Monzer Akbik, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition opposition group, said the Syrian government delegation has asked to refer back to Damascus before giving its final answer on a Homs truce later Sunday.


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