‘A good beginning,’ Brahimi says of first day of Syria peace talks

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Geneva, Switzerland __ UN Syria envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said representatives from Syria’s two warring sides met in the same room for about three hours on Saturday for the first time.

“They have talked to each other this afternoon,” Brahimi told journalists at a Geneva press conference at the conclusion of the first day of joint talks Saturday. Describing the set up in the room where the parties met in the UN’s Palais des Nations, he said, “One delegation was at a table on the left, the other on the right, facing each other. They talk through me, to one another. ”

“This is what happens in civilized discussions, ” Brahimi said. “i think it is a good beginning.”

“We have not achieved much, but we are continuing,” Brahimi said.

In the afternoon, the two sides discussed a UN proposal to send an aid convoy into the besieged Syrian city of Homs. But the Syrian government negotiator, Syrian UN envoy Bashar Jaafari, claimed to be unaware of it, in spite of the fact that Russia had previously presented the proposal to the Syrian regime, diplomats said. The proposal is currently under review by the Syrian government for possible approval Sunday, Brahimi said.

The two sides plan to discuss prisoner releases on Sunday, Brahimi said, with a push first for the release of women and children held by the regime, Syrian opposition delegates said.

The Syrian opposition praised what they called the preparatory talks on confidence building measures, and said talks would turn to the more politically sensitive issue of the formation of the transitional governing body beginning on Monday.

“The most important element discussed today was on humanitarian corridors for Homs, which has been besieged for the past 19 months without food,” Louay Safi, a spokesman for the Syrian Opposition Coalition negotiating team, told journalists at a press conference Saturday evening.

“Now we are going through the preparatory phase of securing the release of detainees,” Safi said.

Safi, notably, took several questions from Syrian state media, and made a point of thanking the reporters for their questions and striking a calm, civil tone.

“Why do you not accept elections?” a reporter from a Syrian state radio outlet asked. “What balance do you have among your people inside Syria? Can you give guarantees to kidnapped civilians, ….why speak only of [a humanitarian corridor for the] small area of Homs.”

“Thank you very much,’ Safi said before answering her question. “These are very important questions.”

“We want humanitarian corridors in all areas, but Homs is like a test balloon,” Safi said. “We want to see if the regime is willing to provide food to people who are starving, not hungry, but starving.”

When a Syrian state news agency SANA reporter asked the opposition spokesman, aren’t all the people left in the old city of Homs terrorists, Safi remained calm as he disagreed. There are 500 civilian families in Homs, men, women, children, without running water for over 8 months, digging wells and eating animals on the street to survive, he said.

Another reporter asked what the opposition might offer in exchange for concessions by the Syrian regime.

“Actually we are offering to save Syria from destruction,” Safi said.

“Many people in Syria would like to know about where we stand,” Safi said, noting Syrian state media propaganda pursuing a campaign to portray the Syrian opposition as terrorists. “We think the people need to hear from us.”