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Syria peace talks in Geneva as UN Security Council drafts resolution on aid access

Talks between Syria's opposition and government representatives have continued as the UN Security Council drafts a resolution for aid access. Three more days of a cease-fire have been agreed for the Syrian city of Homs.

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Syria: Heavy fighting and nearly fruitless diplomacy

Syria's opposition and government delegations again blamed each other for escalating violence that has killed hundreds of people across the country in recent days as peace talks in Geneva started again on Monday.

The Syrian opposition delegation warned it would not return for a third round if no progress was made in the current session.

"If there is no progress at all, I think it would be a waste of time to think about a third round," opposition spokesman Louay Safi told reporters late Monday. Both sides said there would be a joint session on Tuesday moderated by UN and Arab League mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

UN Security Council

A draft resolution to increase aid access in Syria has been drafted at the UN Security Council in New York. Drawn up by Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan, it calls for unrestricted humanitarian access, which, if not granted within 15 days, would bring non-military sanctions against individuals and entities responsible for the obstruction of aid deliveries.

The draft resolution expressed "outrage at the unacceptable and escalating level of violence and the death of over 136,000 people in Syria, including more than 11,000 children."

But on Monday, veto-holding Council members Russia and China failed to attend negotiations on the draft resolution.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said Russia would veto the resolution if it was put to a vote. "Our approach is that we need to work pragmatically," he said. "If it's something which is useful, which will not be regarded by people as simply provocative but is something which is really aimed at improving the humanitarian situation, then I think it cannot be ruled out."

Russia and China have vetoed three resolutions condemning Syria's government and threatening it with possible sanctions in the last three years.

Cease-fire extended for Homs

UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos welcomed a three-day extension of the weekend's "humanitarian pause" in Syria's third largest city of Homs. But she said it was "absolutely unacceptable" that UN and Syrian Red Crescent aid workers were targeted, and that 11 people lost their lives because the parties didn't maintain their ceasefire during the initial pause at the weekend.

Aid workers returned to Homs on Monday to evacuate more women, children and the elderly from rebel-held areas which have been blockaded by government troops for more than a year. Homs was one of the first cities to rebel against government forces. The governor of Homs province said 460 people were evacuated on Monday.

There were also reports of killings in a village north of the central city of Hama, which left up to 40 civilians dead. Rebels overran the village, a predominantly Alawite community, supportive of the Assad regime.

Separately, a third batch of Syria's chemical weapons material has been shipped out of the country on a Norwegian cargo vessel, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Monday.

The OPCW is overseeing Syria's attempts to destroy its chemical weapons. The Netherlands-based organisation said an unspecified amount of chemicals used in making weapons has also been destroyed inside Syria.

jm/jr (Reuters, AP)

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