Syria's opposing delegations have reached a deadlock over establishing a transitional government. Meanwhile, the opposition has accused the Assad regime of preventing aid from reaching the besieged city of Homs.
The resumption of negotiations between representatives from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government and the Syrian opposition came to a standstill on Monday. The Assad regime had presented a declaration of principles for negotiations, which did not contain any mention of a transition of power, prompting an immediate rejection by the opposition delegation.
"The Syrian delegation has put forward a principles document affirming respect for Syria's sovereignty, the restoration of its stolen territory, and the elimination of all forms of violence and extremism...and the others are rejecting it," Syria Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said following the reaction.
Al-Zoubi added that President al-Assad would not leave office because "the Syrian constitution provides that any president must take office through elections."
'Outside Geneva's framework'
The opposition's chief negotiator, Hadi al-Bahra (pictured above), called the proposal "outside the framework of Geneva."
"It fails to address the core issue," al-Bahra added.
Ahead of the face-to-face session, tensions were expected to run high as the opposition worked to move discussion beyond last week's talking points, which involved primarily humanitarian aid, to concrete plans for Syria's next government.
The opposition group has repeatedly demanded President al-Assad's resignation as a pre-condition for a transitional government. Assad's regime has categorically rejected the demand and has said that the Syrian people alone must decide the fate of their country, including Assad's political future.
The talks, which began on January 22, 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.
Skepticism about evacuation promise
The Syrian opposition expressed skepticism over the Assad regime's recent assurances that it would allow the evacuation of women and children from the besieged central city of Homs. The announcement had come at the end of talks on Sunday evening and were seen as a glimmer of hope after tense negotiations.
However, on Monday opposition spokesperson Monzer Akbib accused the government of preventing aid from reaching the city, where some 800 families remain trapped amid daily shelling and a shortage of food and medicine.
"We will judge the regime by what it does, not by what it says," Akbib said.
The US called on the Syrian government to allow aid through rather than evacuating civilians.
"The situation is desperate and the people are starving," US State Department spokesperson Edgar Vasquez said in a statement. "Civilians must be allowed to come and go freely, and the people of Homs must not be forced to leave their homes and split up their families before receiving much needed food and other aid."
"We've seen similar tactics before from the regime, through its despicable 'kneel or starve campaign.'...That cannot happen in Homs," Vasquez said.
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 Syrian 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.
Fighting in Syria since March 2011 has claimed over 130,000 lives, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Millions of people have been internally displaced and over two million have sought refuge in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.
kms/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)