GENEVA, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Representatives from the Syrian government and its opposition, sitting down face-to-face to a negotiating table for the first time in three years, talked humanitarian issues Saturday afternoon, said a mediator from the United Nations (UN) Lakhdar Brahimi.
"We had two sessions today in the same room with the two delegations," he told press. "In the morning we met from 10 to 11 something, and in the afternoon four to six...They faced one another, and talked through me to one another. It is a good beginning."
"We haven't achieved much," he continued. "But we are continuing...This afternoon, we start to speak about humanitarian affairs, and we discussed to some length the situation in Homs, the city of Homs and the old city of Homs."
According to Brahimi, they are going to discuss prisoner swap on Sunday morning. "The situation is extremely complex, very difficult, and we are moving in half-steps," he said. "What we agreed today is to be discussed tomorrow, then we will see (what to talk about) in the afternoon."
In their first meeting, the two delegations entered the room in the UN Office in Geneva through different doors, and sat down at a U-shaped table with Brahimi in the middle. They didn't talk to each other and didn't shake hands.
But it was deemed a giant leap forward, giving rise to people's hope to end the three-year-long conflict that claimed more than 100,000 or even 130,000 lives.
"Our ambition is to end the war and restore peace and security," the joint special envoy of the UN and the Arab League said. Discussion of humanitarian issues was a beginning, which was to pave the way for negotiation of "more difficult points".
Talking to press Saturday afternoon, Louay Safi, spokesman from the major opposition Syrian National Coalition, didn't call the talks as negotiation. "It is consultation, not negotiation," he said. "There are areas in Syria that haven't seen food and medicine for the last eight months. People are eating grass, and eating a lot of things like animals, cats and dogs. That is not acceptable today."
He viewed the issues talked about "not at the core of negotiations". "These are introductory discussions," he said, insisting that "negotiations will start on Monday and these negotiations are about forming transitional governing body".
However, this was rejected by Brahimi. "I have appealed to both side to be cautious in what they tell the media," he said.
Noting that the negotiation is inching step by step, Brahimi indicated that there is no schedule as when the topic of transitional government would be touched.
Syria's Ambassador to the UN Bashar Ja'afari, head of the negotiation team of the Syrian government, told reporters that it is "too early" to talk about the future of president Bashar Assad. "Geneva I is about the whole package, it is not a matter of selectivity. You go there, you discuss everything in Geneva I. You cannot single out one point and another. None of the points or items included in Geneva I is marginal."
Faisal al-Mekdad, deputy foreign minister in Syria, told press that they cannot "transit in a way that will bring havoc and destruction to Syria"."We have to stop killing. We are for that immediately. And we are for driving out all terrorists," he said.
Asked about the danger of expectation imbalance, Brahimi expressed his optimism. "I am looking forward to the discussion tomorrow and hope we will have good news."
They were originally supposed to start direct talks on Friday. But the process did not proceed as scheduled, and Brahimi spent two days mediating between the two parties.
The negotiation is expected to last until the end of next week before a suspension. A good signal is that neither implied the intention to withdraw.
Anas al-Abdeh, a member with the opposition negotiating team, said he was going to stay for one week probably until the next Friday.
While Ja'afari said they came with "positive spirit and open mind". "We are committed," he said.
Talking specifically about China, Brahimi said that China is not only one of the five permanent members in the Security Council, but also a big Asian country that has "extremely important relations with the regions in Syria". He hoped that China, along with other nations, could "exercise influence to all sides in Syria and in the region", so as to bring peace back to Syria.
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