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Envoy Reports Progress On Women, Children In Syria Talks

Lakhdar Brahimi is moderating the talks.
An international envoy has reported some progress at the peace talks in Geneva between representatives of the Syrian government and the opposition.

United Nations-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said on January 26 that the two sides reached a deal to allow women and children to leave the rebel-held city of Homs, which has been under siege by government forces for more than a year.

It is reported to be the first tangible outcome of direct talks between the warring parties that began on January 25.

"Hopefully, starting tomorrow women and children will be able to leave the old city in Homs," Brahimi told reporters on January 26. "And I hope that the rest of the civilians will be able to leave soon after that."

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad pledged that the government was prepared to let women and children leave Homs if rebels gave them safe passage. He said the government was also ready to provide civilians with shelter and medicine.

In his press conference, Brahimi acknowledged that the talks have not made rapid progress. But he said the two sides have been negotiating with "mutual respect." He declined, however, to give a timeline for the pace of the talks.

"What I am saying careful," he said. "Don't run before you can walk. And we are just learning to walk, that's all. Timeline? It's too early to speak of a timeline. Our timeline is tomorrow now."

In the negotiations on January 26, the sides apparently fell short of reaching an accord on prisoner releases.

The sides accuse each other of holding thousands of prisoners that have been detained during the war that has now been waged for almost three years.

Brahimi said the delegations may start to discuss the more difficult political issues at the core of the conflict on January 27.

The government continues to reject opposition demands for the resignation of President Bashar al-Assad. It says the opposition is largely infiltrated by Sunni terrorist groups funded by foreign countries.

The opposition insists that the formation of a transitional government without Assad is the only way the country can go forward.

Amid high tensions and acrimony, representatives from more than 40 countries and international organizations attended the formal launch of the talks on January 22.

The opposition Syrian National Council has been backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other states.

The government has relied on the backing of its longtime ally, Russia.

The government's other main ally, Iran, had its invitation to the conference rescinded after the United States and other countries criticized Tehran for not publicly backing the formation of a transitional government, in line with an international statement adopted in mid-2012.

Some 130,000 people are estimated to have died in the conflict, and millions have been forced from their homes.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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