Syria talks to discuss ceasefire, aid deal for Homs: Opposition

Reuters , Saturday 25 Jan 2014

UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, center, leaves a press briefing at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, Friday, Jan. 24, 2014 (Photo: AP)

Syrian government and opposition delegations will discuss on Saturday a deal for a short ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid to enter besieged rebel-held areas in Homs, opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah said.

He said the issue would be the first on the agenda of talks attended by the two sides later in the day, following their brief morning session in the presence of international mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

The opposition has asked fighters on the ground to respect a ceasefire and to protect convoys of aid once the agreement is reached, Abdah told reporters after the morning meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva.

"We had a suggestion prepared for this before the conference began and already spoke about it to the Red Cross and countries that are close to the regime like Russia, as well as United States and the United Nations," he said.

"Our belief is that this suggestion has already made progress and we hope today that we reach a result about it - meaning we ask for a ceasefire in Old Homs so that humanitarian convoys can enter," he said, referring to the historic quarter of the city, a rebel-held area besieged by President Bashar al-Assad's forces.

"We have asked the (rebel) brigades to respect the ceasefire and to protect the convoys and this in itself will be a good start for such negotiations."

He said the proposal, which included granting civilians safe passage, could lead to a ceasefire in Homs city for a week or two, which if successful could be extended to the whole of the central province - a key battleground in the nearly three-year conflict.

Previous ceasefires in Syria, where more than 130,000 people have been killed, have proved short-lived.

The crisis began with protests against Assad's rule in March 2011 but descended into an armed insurgency and civil war after security forces put down demonstrations with force.

There are now hundreds of rebel brigades across the country, including hardline Islamists and al Qaeda-linked fighters, few of whom pay much heed to the political opposition in exile.

But Abdah said the fact that Brahimi had raised the issue on Saturday after separate talks with the opposition and government delegations a day earlier meant that the idea already had won a degree of consensus between the two parties.

United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told Reuters on Thursday she hoped the Geneva talks will clinch local ceasefires to allow vital food and medicines to reach millions of civilians.

Amos said it was crucial to gain access to some 250,000 people trapped in besieged communities, many of them in Aleppo, Homs and near Damascus, who have been out of reach for many months.

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