Syria peace talks in Geneva break off, no new date set


Humanitarian groups complain it's still too difficult to bring aid to the central Syrian city of Homs.



A second round of peace talks between Syria's warring sides broke off Saturday without making any progress and without a date being set for a third round, United Nations mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said.

"I think it is better that every side goes back and reflects on their responsibility, [and on whether] they want this process to continue or not," Lakhdar Brahimi told reporters in Geneva, according to the Agence France-Presse.

The Syrian government, meanwhile, accused Israel and the United States of undermining the talks and blamed the opposition's refusal to settle the issue of "terrorism" for the deadlock.

The Algerian-born diplomat said an agreement to evacuate people from the besieged city of Homs had raised hopes that weren't satisfied at the Geneva talks involving opposition groups and representatives of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) also stressed the meager results so far, saying the Homs evacuation did not herald any wider improvement in humanitarian access to Syria's civil war zones, where the United Nations says it cannot reach up to 3 million people in need.

"I am very very sorry and I apologize to the Syrian people that their hopes which were very very high here, that something will happen here," Brahimi told journalists after the talks, according to Reuters.

"I think that the little that has been achieved in Homs gave them even more hope that maybe this is the beginning of coming out of this horrible crisis they are in."

Death toll at 140,000, opposition says

The pro-opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the 3-year-old conflict has killed more than 140,000 people — more than 7,000 of them children.

The London-based Observatory added the period since the "Geneva 2" peace talks for Syria began last month had been the bloodiest of the conflict.

The rebels come mainly from Syria's majority Sunni Muslims and have been joined by radical Sunni groups such as Al Qaeda and other foreign militants.

Shia Muslim Iran and the powerful Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah have thrown their weight behind Assad, who is from Syria's minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, and whose family has dominated Syria for 44 years.

Thousands of people fled a rebel-held western Syrian town, Yabroud, on Friday after it was bombed and shelled in an operation that has stirred fears of a major assault by ground troops, the UN said.

Al-Manar television, run by Lebanon's Hezbollah, said the Syrian army had advanced in the Yabroud area, seizing control of the town's main road and a nearby border crossing that it said was used for smuggling

Agenda for next talks, whenever they are

Brahimi said the points to be discussed at the next Geneva round include violence and terrorism, a transitional governing body, national institutions and national reconciliation.

However, he added, the Syrian government wants to first deal with the issue of combating terrorism — the word it uses to described armed opposition to Assad's rule — and has refused to deal with any other points until that's resolved.

US President Barack Obama said on Friday he was considering new ways to pressure Assad but did not expect the conflict to be resolved any time soon.

However, Obama told reporters in California that "there are going to be some immediate steps that we have to take to help the humanitarian assistance there."

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters.