Two days of face-to-face peace talks yielded a narrow and tentative agreement Sunday for women and children trapped in a besieged Syrian city, and the government said President Bashar Assad had no intention of giving up “the keys to Damascus.”
With little progress to show after months of international pressure for the conference in Geneva, the U.N. mediator hoping to broker an end to Syria’s civil war defended their pace.
“I think being too slow is a better way than going too fast,” Lakhdar Brahimi said. “If you run, you may gain one hour and lose one week.”
The limited agreement to let women and children leave a blockaded part of the old city of Homs, under negotiation for at least two days, fell far short of expectations and was called into question by multiple reports of government shelling.
The talks have yet to touch upon the issue of a possible transitional government — their purpose according to terms laid out when they were first conceived. But the government was unequivocal that Assad’s future was assured in the country led by his family since 1970.
“This is a red line. If some people think we are coming here to give them the keys of Damascus they are wrong,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad, echoing the language U.S. President Barack Obama used to describe a chemical weapons attack in Syria.
In Syria, the war continued as if there were no effort to stop it — gunfire and shelling in Homs, between Assad’s forces and rebels, and between the al-Qaida-linked militants and Kurdish fighters, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
The blockaded districts of Homs came under intense fire that activists blamed on the government, calling into question how any deals reached in remote Switzerland could be implemented or verified in a chaotic civil war with dozens of players that began as a largely peaceful uprising against Assad. More than 130,000 people have died in less than three years, and millions of Syrians have fled their homes.
Brahimi acknowledged that the agreement for Homs fell short of his hope to send a humanitarian aid convoy to the city. But, he said, “to bring Syria out of the ditch in which it has fallen will take time.”
There have been a number of short-lived, local truces reached between opposition-held towns and government forces in recent months that, including in Moadamiyeh, a sprawling rebel-held community west of Damascus, where about 5,000 residents were allowed to evacuate in the fall.
Monzer Akbik, an opposition spokesman, said the coalition was still determined to stay for the political talks set to begin Monday despite accusing the government of continued…