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After stalling on Assad fate, Syria talks enter new day in Geneva

UN-sponsored Syria peace talks are entering a new day. The resumption of negotiations between representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the opposition came to a standstill on Monday.

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Syrian government officials and the opposition managed to face each other directly to

discuss the country's civil war

for only an hour Monday in Geneva

before the talks stalled

on the contentious issue of a transitional government and

humanitarian needs in Homs

, the country's third biggest city. International mediator Lakhdar Brahimi planned to bring both sides to the negotiating table again on Tuesday to "talk about the Geneva declaration itself and see if we can start a debate," he told reporters.

"Once again, I tell you we never expected any miracle," Brahimi, the UN's envoy, said ahead of the talks. "There are no miracles here. But we will continue and see if progress can be made and when."

Tensions ran high as the opposition worked to move discussion beyond

the weekend's talking points

, which involved primarily humanitarian aid, to concrete plans for Syria's next government. On Monday, the regime would not discuss any transition of power, prompting a rejection by the opposition delegation, led by chief negotiator, Hadi al-Bahra, who called any proposal for a vote in which the president would stand for re-election "outside the framework of Geneva," referring to a previous conference in 2012.

"It fails to address the core issue," al-Bahra said. The original conference had called for the president's ouster.

'People are starving'

As the talks aimed at ending the nearly three-year civil war came to a standstill on Monday, the United States demanded that Syria's government allow aid into the city of Homs. The government had announced that it would allow women and children to leave the besieged city and that rebels should hand over the names of the men who would remain. A US State Department spokesman said, however, that an evacuation did not represent an alternative to immediate aid.

"We firmly believe that the Syrian regime must approve the convoys to deliver badly needed humanitarian assistance into the Old City of Homs now," State Department spokesman Edgar Vasquez said. "The situation is desperate and the people are starving."

The opposition also expressed skepticism over the Assad regime's recent assurances that it would allow the evacuation of women and children. The announcement had come at the end of talks on Sunday evening and had been seen as a glimmer of hope after tense negotiations. However, on Monday opposition spokesperson Monzer Akbik accused the government of preventing aid from reaching the city, where up to 800 families remain trapped amid daily shelling and a shortage of food and medicine.

"We will judge the regime by what it does," Akbik said, "not by what it says."

Slow going

The Geneva 2 conference began on January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland, after repeated failed attempts by the international community to bring representatives from the Assad regime and the opposition together. The first days were marked by intense exchanges over who represented the Syrian people and who could demand Assad's resignation. It wasn't until the weekend that they agreed to meet in the same room.

The talks have made slow progress. Tense exchanges marked the first day, followed by refusal from both sides to continue working together in light of demands for Assad's departure. However, UN-Arab mediator Lakhdar Brahimi managed to bring the two groups face-to-face over the weekend.

Since Syria's civil war began as a series of nonviolent protests against the government in March 2011, fighting has claimed more than 130,000 lives. Millions of people have been internally displaced and more than 2 million have sought refuge in neighboring countries.

mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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