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Syrian foes meet face to face in Geneva

Aid mission to Homs extended

Reuters . Geneva

Syrian civilians walk as they are evacuated during a humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Monday. — AFP photoSyrian civilians walk as they are evacuated during a humanitarian operation in the besieged Syrian city of Homs on Monday. — AFP photo

The Syrian government and the opposition met face to face on Tuesday and observed a minute of silence for people killed in the three year conflict after a first round of talks last month failed to make significant progress, delegates said.
‘I hope that the minute of silence will signal an improvement in the atmosphere this time,’ opposition delegate Ahmed Jakal said.
He said that international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi proposed that the two sides discuss ending the violence on Tuesday and the formation of a transitional governing body on Wednesday.
The two issues have caused deep rifts between the warring parties and delayed negotiations.
Syrian state news agency SANA said the morning’s joint session started with a minute’s silence ‘for the souls of the martyrs of the village of Maan in rural Hama.’
The authorities accused Sunni Muslim Islamist fighters of killing 42 people on Sunday in Maan, which is populated by members of president Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect.
Monzer Akbik, a spokesman for the opposition National Coalition, said no civilians were killed in Maan.
‘There was a battle over there between (the rebel) Free Syrian Army and Assad forces. The village itself was evacuated of civilians more than six months ago. All people in that battle  were killed in action. No civilians were killed in that battle.’
He said that Tuesday’s session was still focused on discussing what the schedule for the week should be and said the two sides were arguing over the length and number of meeting.
Meanwhile, aid teams launched fresh efforts on Tuesday to evacuate civilians from besieged districts of Syria’s Homs.
The Syrian Red Crescent has so far helped evacuate around 1,200 people trapped in rebel-held areas of the war-ravaged central city, and delivered desperately-needed food and medicine.
The operations are scheduled to continue at least through Wednesday after an initial three-day truce that began Friday was extended by another 72 hours.
UN and Red Crescent teams evacuated 473 people from Homs on Monday, many of whom have spent more than 18 months trapped with dwindling food and medical supplies.
They streamed out of streets strewn with rubble and bookmarked by half-collapsed buildings, towards the vehicles waiting to extract them from the city.
The most dangerous elements of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpile will be removed from Syria by March 1, the Syrian ambassador to Russia said on Tuesday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Syria missed a December 31 deadline to remove its most poisonous chemical agents under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States to avert a threatened US-led military strike against Assad’s forces after a chemical weapons attack last year.




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