Middle East

Syrian rivals hold first direct meeting

Regime and opposition delegates in same room but refuse to speak to each other as fragile talks begin in Geneva.

Last updated: 25 Jan 2014 10:09
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback

Syria's government and the main opposition have met in the same room for the first time but did not speak to each other at the start of long-awaited peace negotiations in Geneva. 

In a meeting on Saturday, the two sides came together in the same room but refused to speak directly.

Instead, the UN mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, passed messages between the two groups. The meeting lasted an hour and no statements were released afterward.

The heads of both delegations, the regime's foreign minister Walid al Muallem and Syrian National Council leader Ahmad Jarba, were not at the meeting, sources told Al Jazeera.


Brahimi had spent two days meeting the groups separately and, late on Friday, said: "I think the two parties understand what is at stake. Their country is in very, very bad shape. And I think that the people who are here representing the Opposition and the Government understand that as well as I do, or better. It is their country after all.  

"So the huge ambition of this process is to save Syria. No less than that."

On Friday, Syria's government threatened to leave Switzerland if "serious talks" did not begin by Saturday. The opposition, which agreed to the peace talks only under intense diplomatic pressure, had been reluctant to sit face-to-face with a government it insists must yield power.

But the government says it is there only to talk about fighting terrorism - the word it uses for its enemies - and that no one can force Assad to go.

Brahimi said the two parties were going to work Saturday and Sunday so neither would be leaving the conference.

Best hope

Direct negotiations are seen by many diplomats as the best hope for an eventual end to the war. 

Breakthrough on Syria talks in Geneva unlikely

As the talks appeared to be on the verge of collapse, fighting raged on Friday in parts of Syria, including near Damascus, the capital.

Protesters in several Syrian towns demonstrated against the talks, saying Assad had shown with years of military strikes against his people that he favoured violence over negotiations.

But the two sides' willingness to meet Brahimi - even separately - gave some hope that negotiations might bear fruit. Brahimi himself has said both sides may bend on humanitarian corridors, prisoner exchanges and local ceasefires.


Al Jazeera and agencies
Email Article
Print Article
Share article
Send Feedback
Topics in this article
Featured on Al Jazeera
Indonesia's digerati could be crucial to success in the country's upcoming presidential election.
How Brazil's football legend turned every Corinthians' match into a political meeting for democracy.
As the Pakistani army battles Taliban forces, civilians in North Waziristan face an arduous escape for relative safety.
Nepalese trade in a libido-boosting fungus is booming but experts warn over-exploitation could destroy ecosystem.
Israel's Operation Protective Edge is the third major offensive on the Gaza Strip in six years.
Consumption of traditional nutritional staples such as salmon, moose and bear has fallen in recent generations.
Palestinian families fear Israel's night-time air strikes, as the civilian death toll soars in the Gaza Strip.
China still uses labour camps to silence democracy activists and others it considers malcontents.
Myanmar's Karen veterans of WWII, despite being abandoned by the British, recall their service with fondness.
join our mailing list