The Syrian government and rebel opposition met for the first time in face-to-face negotiations at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. The two sides apparently did not address each other directly, rather they communicated through veteran mediator Lakdhar Brahimi.

The two sides are very far apart on some of the key questions about the political future of Syria, like should Assad stay or go?; should there be a transitional government?; who would make up that government?; and other key points that could form the basis of a political solution to this crisis. The chances of this meeting brokering some sort of political compromise is very low.

Still, all will not be lost if this meeting can bring progress on the humanitarian front. One key question is whether a humanitarian ceasefire can be brokered for Homs.

Homs is the third most populous city in Syria–or at least it was before the war. It was the city that cradled the revolution. Today, it is divided and under siege, with dire humanitarian consequences. Rebel held areas are basically surrounded by government forces.

Both sides have agreed to discuss humanitarian access to Homs as part of a confidence building measure. If an agreement on humanitarian aid to the besieged population can be made, that would be one tangible positive outcome of this peace process. Solving those political questions may be too difficult at this stage. But lifting the siege of Homs and securing unfettered humanitarian access to the population is certainly in the realm of possibility.

 

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