GENEVA/ DAMASCUS - Syria's government delegation arrived in Geneva on Sunday for a fresh round of peace talks with opposition representatives. Members of the opposition delegation also arrived in the Swiss city, a source close to the National Coalition told AFP.
A source close to the government delegation told AFP that representatives of the regime entered the Hotel de la Paix in Geneva from a back door and made no statements to reporters.
The government delegation is headed by Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, as was the case for the first round of the so-called Geneva 2 process 10 days ago.
That round ended without any concrete agreement on Syria's raging war, which in nearly three years has killed more than 136,000 people. Muallem is due to meet UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi at 7:00 pm (1800 GMT) in Geneva, the source close to the regime delegation said. The source close to the opposition team said some members of the delegation had arrived in Geneva, but it was not yet clear if Coalition chief Ahmad Jarba was among them. The two warring sides appear far from reaching any compromise.
While the regime insists the talks focus on fighting "terrorism" -- its term for the revolt -- the opposition demands the priority in Geneva be agreement on a transition that excludes President Bashar al-Assad.
Meanwhile, aid teams evacuated hundreds of exhausted civilians from besieged districts of the city of Homs on Sunday, as Syria’s regime and rebels again accused each other of violating a truce.
The evacuation of some of 3,000 trapped people who had little more than olives and herbs to eat for more than 600 days came ahead of a new round of peace talks. The Damascus delegation and members of the opposition began arriving in Switzerland for a new round of the so-called Geneva II peace talks scheduled to begin on Monday. Sunday’s evacuation from Homs was the second in three days after a UN-brokered truce for besieged districts of Syria’s third city began on Friday.
Five men were killed when one besieged district was hit by mortar fire as Sunday’s evacuation operation got under way, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
They were the latest deaths in a nearly three-year conflict that has killed 136,000 people and displaced millions. “Four hundred and twenty besieged people came out today from the Old City districts of Homs, and the operation is still under way,” Homs governor Talal al-Barazi said. "Sixty-five civilians, all children, women and elderly men, were evacuated from the Old City of Homs, in compliance with an agreement between the UN and the govt.
ernor of Homs," the official news agency SANA reported. State television said the operation took place under fire from "armed terrorist groups", using regime terminology for the rebels. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and activists said fire hit the rebel-held besieged district of Qarabis, where dozens of civilians had gathered to await evacuation by the United Nations. Activists said a gathering point for civilians was hit by mortar rounds launched from pro-regime districts bordering the besieged neighbourhoods where civilians have been trapped for more than 600 days. On Saturday, shelling targeted an aid convoy entering the besieged districts, killing five residents and wounding 20, according to the Britain-based Observatory.
On Friday, 83 elderly people, women and children were evacuated from rebel-held districts, where residents have been surviving on little more than wild herbs and olives for months, and aid was delivered on Saturday despite the convoy being shelled.
In other areas of strife-torn Syria, another 300 people were killed on Saturday, according to the Observatory, the latest deaths in a nearly three-year conflict that has killed 136,000 people and displaced millions.