What’s ‘terrorism’? Syria warring sides wrangle over definition at Geneva II
Talks between Syria's warring sides in Geneva entered their sixth day Thursday with discussions set to focus on "terrorism", both sides said.
Delegations from President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition National Coalition sat down from around 10:45 am (0945 GMT), the UN said.
The morning session would be dedicated to discussing violence on the ground and the fight against "terrorism", both sides said, although they disagreed on what that implied.
The regime delegation has long insisted the talks need to address "terrorism" by jihadists and armed groups in the opposition, whom it blames for most of the bloodshed in the country.
As meetings got under way last week, Syrian officials brandished what they said was a list of rebel "terrorism" and lambasted countries such as the Arab monarchies and Turkey which are key opposition supporters.
The opposition delegation meanwhile had "prepared a massive file on the regime's terrorism with irrefutable evidence and documents," a source in the extended delegation said.
"It aims to prove that the regime is the source of all the terrorism, from the chemical weapons to barrel bombs," as well as the role of Iranian-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah and other pro-regime groups, the source added.
The opposition also notes that the mainstream rebel Free Syrian Army has declared war on the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, often cited by the regime as an example of terrorism.
Despite the combative tone, relations between the two sides appeared to be thawing, UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi said.
"The ice is breaking, slowly, but it is breaking," he told reporters Wednesday.
He acknowledged he did not expect "anything substantive" to come out of the initial round, which is set to conclude Friday.
But he stressed that simply getting the parties talking for the first time since the conflict erupted in March 2011 was an important step.
The two sides have been brought together in Geneva in the biggest diplomatic push yet to end a civil war that has left more than 130,000 dead and forced millions from their homes.
They were set to decide on the last day of the talks on Friday when they would return to Geneva for a second round, likely after a week, Brahimi said.
"I hope that the second session will be more structured and hopefully more productive than the first session," he said.
Both delegations hailed the discussions on Wednesday finally focusing on the Geneva I communique -- the never-implemented roadmap to peace crafted by global powers at talks here in 2012 -- although they did not seem to agree on what part of the text they had discussed.
"Today we had a positive step forward because for the first time now we are talking about the transitional governing body," opposition coalition spokesman Louay Safi said.
The opposition insists setting up the transitional government called for in Geneva I will require Assad to leave power.
But the regime denies the text requires Assad to step down and says his role is not up for debate at this conference.
Regime delegation member Buthaina Shaaban said the regime wanted "to discuss Geneva I item by item," pointing out that the first point in the text calls for ending the violence, which it largely equates to rooting out "terrorism".
It took months of pressure from Washington, which backs the opposition, and Moscow, Assad's key international ally and arms supplier, to bring the two sides together.
Brahimi acknowledged Wednesday that "the gap between the two sides is quite large" and called on the United States and Russia to "use their influence."
No progress was meanwhile apparent towards fulfilling the only tangible promise of the Geneva talks so far: the regime's promise to allow women and children safe passage from besieged rebel-held areas of Homs, where an estimated 3,000 people living with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies.
UN bodies and the International Committee of the Red Cross have said they are on standby with aid but are waiting for approval to move in.