Delegates from Syria's opposition forces and United Nations negotiators, after two days of face-to-face talks in Geneva aimed at bringing peace to the Middle Eastern nation, eked out a meager concession from Bashar Assad’s government, which agreed to allow women and children to evacuate the old city of Homs in western Syria.
The two warring parties nearly did not meet at the Geneva session after a hostile exchange of words at the preceding two-day session in nearby Montreux in Switzerland. And, the talks have so far fallen significantly short of cobbling together a transitional government after Assad’s officials ruled out such an outcome.
"This is a red line. If some people think we are coming here to give them the keys of Damascus they are wrong," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad said, according to Associated Press.
Instead, the regime agreed to allow women and children living in Homs -- a strategic city for both forces that has reportedly been under siege for nearly 18 months -- to vacate the city center, Al Jazeera reported.
Referring to opposition forces as terrorists, al-Mikdad said after Sunday's meetings: "If the armed terrorists in Homs allow women and children to leave the Old City of Homs, we will allow them every access," according to Al Jazeera. "Not only that, we will provide them with shelter, medicines and all that is needed. We are ready to allow any humanitarian aid to enter into the city through the ...arrangements made with the UN."
According to AP, the two parties are yet to broach the issue of a transitional government, and they are expected to do so Monday.
"They were sidestepping some issues and saying they want to refer back to Damascus for answers. It is clear to us that the regime delegation is not in charge of its own decisions," Monzer Akbik, an opposition spokesman, told AP.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy, told AP on Sunday that women and children would be free to leave Homs immediately. However, fighting between government and rebel forces, which include militants linked to al-Qaida and Kurdish fighters, continued in Syria, including in Homs, AP reported, citing the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
"The regime is blocking all convoys to Homs and has been doing so for months," an unnamed U.S. official said, AP reported. "The situation in Homs is extremely urgent. Anything the government says to the contrary is false."
In Homs, activists from the opposition are demanding a complete end to the city’s siege and have turned down the possibility of a limited cease-fire, Al Jazeera reported.
"I think being too slow is a better way than going too fast," Brahimi told AP, adding that "to bring Syria out of the ditch in which it has fallen will take time."