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Syria vows no concessions

Nearly 1,900 dead since peace talks began

Agence France-Presse . Geneva

Syria’s regime Friday vowed not to give any ground in peace talks with the opposition, as a first week of negotiations wrapped up with no concrete progress beyond a pledge to meet again.
‘Neither in this round, nor in the next will they obtain any concessions from the Syrian delegation,’ the information minister, Omran al-Zohbi, told pro-regime demonstrators outside the UN’s European headquarters in Geneva where the talks were held.
‘They will not get through politics what they couldn’t get through force,’ Zohbi insisted, as the applauding 250-strong crowd waved a huge Syrian flag and brandished pictures of president Bashar al-Assad.
Zohbi said his no surrender message was not only for the rebels, who he accused of ‘terrorism’, but also for their allies in Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and anti-Assad groups in Lebanon.
Earlier, delegations from the Assad regime and the opposition National Coalition had sat down for their final meeting shortly after 11:00am (1000 GMT), the UN said.
UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi has already said he does not expect the past week’s negotiations to produce ‘anything substantive’, and no major announcements were expected once the talks conclude in the early afternoon.
‘The talks were obviously not a success,’ Salman Shaikh, the head of the Brookings Doha Institute, said.
But just getting the warring sides to sit down together for the first time since the conflict erupted in March 2011 is, however, was seen by many as an important step forward.
‘The important thing is that the parties meet in the same room,’ the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, told reporters in Berlin Thursday.
In a stark reminder of the situation on the ground, nearly 1,900 people have been killed since the peace talks opened, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Friday.
The two sides were set to decide at Friday’s meeting when they will return to Geneva, likely in about a week.
Beforehand, Syrian opposition chief Ahmad Jarba is set to attend the annual Munich Security Conference this weekend, the delegations said.
He will then travel on to visit officials in Russia, one of the Syrian regime’s key international ally and arms supplier, in a bid to rally support.
It took months of pressure from Moscow and Washington, which backs the opposition, to bring the two sides together, and Brahimi has called on them and others to exercise their influence to end the bloody civil war.

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