Brahimi apologizes to Syrians over dismal peace talks

A second round of peace talks between Syria's warring sides broke off without making any progress

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U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi on Saturday apologized to the people of Syria after the first two rounds of the peace talks in Geneva have not achieved any progress.

"I apologize that these two rounds have not come out with very much," Brahimi said, adding that no date has been set for a third round.

“I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects on their responsibility, (and on whether) they want this process to continue or not,” he told reporters in Geneva.

Saturday's talks, which lasted less than half an hour, left the future of the negotiating process in doubt.

Afterward, Brahimi told a news conference that he had proposed an agenda for another round of talks that would focus first on ending the violence and then cover how to create a transitional governing body.

Brahimi said the Syrian government has refused his suggestion to discuss the transitional governing body during the talks.

Syrian opposition negotiator Ahmad Jakal said on Saturday Brahimi expects a new round of peace talks to take place.

“It was a short, tense session, dominated by differences over how to tackle the issues of violence and political transition. Mr (Lakhdar) Brahimi set no date for a third round but he made it clear he expects there will be one,” he told Reuters.

Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said new peace talks would be useless if the regime continues to refuse to discuss a political transition.

“A third round without talking about transition would be a waste of time,” Safi told reporters in Geneva, after the negotiations ended.

The talks began in Geneva with aims to find a solution for nearly three years of political violence that has claimed the lives of more than 100,000 people and displaced millions since March 2011.

Syrian regime ‘at fault’

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague on Saturday blamed the Syrian government for the breakdown in talks between Syria's warring sides, calling the situation a “serious setback” for peace.

“The failure to agree an agenda for future rounds of talks ... is a serious setback in the search for peace in Syria, and the responsibility for it lies squarely with the Assad regime,” Hague said in a statement.

But Hague said “this cannot be the end of the road.”

He added: “With the war in Syria causing more death and destruction every day, we owe it to the people of Syria to do all we can to make progress towards a political solution. So we will continue to give our strong support to Lakhdar Brahimi and the Geneva process.

“It is also now more urgent than ever to move forward with a U.N. Security Council resolution that addresses the appalling humanitarian suffering in Syria. The people in Syria's besieged areas and the many parts of the country not receiving any aid cannot wait,” Hague said.

Meanwhile, France has also blamed the Syrian regime for the collapse of talks, saying that it had blocked any possibility of progress.

“I blame the attitude of the Syrian regime, which blocked any progress on establishing a transition government and stepped up violence and acts of terror against the civilian population,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement.

Death toll reaches 140,000

Brahimi’s remarks came as a Syrian activist group said on Saturday the death toll in that country's conflict has reached 140,000.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the dead from three years of political violence included civilians, rebels, members of the military, pro-government militiamen and foreign fighters.

The group bases its count on a network of informants on the ground.

The group says more than 3,400 people have been killed so far this month, an escalation in violence even as the government and opposition held peace talks in Geneva.

The U.N.'s human rights office said in January it has stopped updating the death toll from Syria's civil war, confirming that it can no longer verify the sources of information that led to its last count of at least 100,000 in late July.

(with AFP and AP)