02/12/2014, 00.00
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As peace talks stall in Geneva, ceasefire extended in Homs

by Paul Dakiki
Both parties are threatening to have the talks fail. For the Syrian regime, fighting terrorism is crucial, whilst rebels want to work on a transition government without Bashar al Assad. Lakhdar Brahimi reminds everyone of "the nightmare" in which the Syrian population is living. So far, 1,132 people are freed from the siege of Homs. Several hundred men are held to check for possible links to terrorism. About 400 children and 20 pregnant women are saved.

Damascus (AsiaNews) - Peace talks in Geneva have stalled and there is a risk of failure. Meanwhile in Homs, the parties are trying to uphold the ceasefire as the evacuation of civilians resumes from rebel-held areas under siege for the past year and half.

"The beginning of this week is as laborious as it was the first week," Brahimi said. "We are not making much progress," he added.

In fact, both sides believe the talks will end in "failure".

"I think Geneva under the current circumstances will end in failure," Syria's reconciliation minister Ali Haidar said.

Opposition spokesman Louay Safi said his side would not "run away", but that without progress it would be "more honest to say we have failed".

The two sides are locked into a dispute over what to do.

According to the Syrian government, talks should focus on stopping "terrorism" (which includes internal opposition, the rebels of the Free Syrian Army, radical Islamists linked to al Qaeda and foreign fighters).

For the opposition, the main thing is to adhere to Geneva I (2012 talks), which called for a transitional government that would include officials from Bashar al Assad's  party, but would exclude the current president from any political future.

For his part, Brahimi said that it was urgent to "help Syria out of the nightmare its people have been living through now for three years".

Since March 2011, the "Arab Spring", which the regime repressed violently, has turned into a civil war, one with regional and international ramifications, with fighters coming from other countries backed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Western countries, and groups linked to al Qaeda terrorism fighting against Assad.

On the other hand, Iranian and Hizbollah military advisers, along with Russian and Chinese weapons, have helped the Syrian military and government.

At least 130,000 people have died in the conflict and more than 9.5 million people have been displaced within the country or in refugee camps in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey.

The only positive result so far is the agreement between Syria and the UN on a ceasefire in Homs to allow some 3,000 people holed up in the besieged Old City to leave or be resupplied.

Refugees began leaving last Friday. Their evacuation did not go smoothly though. On Saturday, shelling and gunfire interrupted the process with each side accusing the other of violating it. The evacuation resumed, albeit with difficulty, the next day.

Homs governor Talal Barazi said he was prepare to uphold the truce until all civilians who want to can be taken out of the besieged city.

So far, according to the United Nations, 1,132 people have been evacuated. However, the government detained 336 men between 15 and 55 for questioning.

Red Cross officials remain near the site of the interrogation whose aim is to check for links to terrorist groups.

Out of the hundreds who were detained, 111 have already been released.

Homs refugees include 400 children and 20 pregnant women. Most of them said that they endured "cold, hunger, lack of clean water and the incessant bombing."

In Geneva, discussions are expected to continue until Friday. After that, Brahimi is expected in New York next week to report on the talks to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council.

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