The talks in Geneva aimed to launch political negotiations on ending Syria’s nearly three-year conflict, which has killed 130,000 people, displaced over third of Syria’s 22 million population and destabilised the wider region.
“The first session has ended – Brahimi spoke for 30 minutes and none of the delegates said anything,” opposition delegate Anas al-Abdah told reporters after the meeting.
The two sides entered and left the room through separate doors, Abdah added, and were due to meet again at 4pm (1500 GMT) for discussions on humanitarian matters.
He said Brahimi told them the first two days of the talks would focus on negotiations to lift sieges of civilians including in the central city of Homs, as well as local ceasefires and humanitarian access, but the core of the negotiations should be about resolving the conflict.
“He (Brahimi) told us this is a political conference… based on Geneva 1,” Abdah said, referring to a June 2012 communique which called for the establishment of a transitional governing body — a goal the Damascus government rejects.
The peace conference almost collapsed on Friday, the day face-to-face talks were meant to start, and was only saved after UN mediator Brahimi persuaded the two sides to focus on smaller issues on which agreement might emerge.
“We do expect some bumps on the road,” Brahimi told a news conference on Friday after separate meetings with the parties.
With international divisions over how to end the conflict putting an overall political solution out of reach for now, the two sides will focus on small, confidence-building steps with no certainty negotiations will even last the week.
“Both parties will be here tomorrow… they will not leave on Saturday or Sunday,” Brahimi said.
One diplomatic source, noting the caustic verbal attacks that marked the opening of the conference in the Swiss city of Montreux on Wednesday, said on Friday he had become cautious.