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Syria’s warring sides hold direct Geneva talks

The first face-to-face meeting comes after a day’s delay and repeated bitter recriminations

Published: Updated:

Syria's warring sides met briefly together in the same room on Saturday for the first time since peace talks started in Geneva, the U.N. said.

U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi's spokeswoman confirmed Saturday morning that he and the two sides were meeting in the same room.

The meeting, during which Brahimi spoke while the two delegations had listened, wrapped up in under half an hour, a source inside the room told Agence France-Presse.

The meeting comes after a day’s delay and repeated bitter recriminations, and talks reportedly involved “discussing a deal to allow aid into a single city, Homs,” Reuters news agency reported.

Humanitarian access for Homs, where rebels are surrounded in central districts by forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, could be agreed fast.

“The practical aspects have been worked on. Things are ready and if the government doesn’t put a block on it then it could happen quickly,” a diplomatic source said.

The currently ongoing Geneva II peace conference neared collapse on Friday when face-to-face talks were meant to start.

United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi put the talks back on track after persuading the two sides to focus on smaller issues on which there might be agreement.

“We do expect some bumps on the road,” Brahimi told a news conference after separate meetings with the two delegations.

“Both parties will be here tomorrow...they will not leave on Saturday or Sunday,” Brahimi said.

Opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah said the process would begin with a brief meeting at 10 a.m. (0400 ET) on Saturday at which only Brahimi would speak, to be followed by another longer session in the afternoon, Reuters reported.

Rejecting a transitional body

But before the meeting began, the Syrian government reiterated its rejection of a proposal to form a transitional ruling body as part of a political solution to the country’s nearly three-year conflict.

“We have complete reservations regarding it,” Information Minister Omran Zoabi told reporters shortly before the government was due to hold its first talks with an opposition delegation in Geneva, in the presence of international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

“Syria is a state with institutions,” Zoabi said. “A transitional governing body ... happens where the state is in disintegration, or has no institutions.”

National Coalition spokesman Louay Safi had confirmed to Al Arabiya News Channel that the opposition’s delegation will hold direct talks with the government through the U.N. mediator on Saturday.

Safi said the negotiations will focus on forming a transitional authority with comprehensive powers.

He urged the government to start releasing prisoners, beginning with women and children.