A humanitarian gesture

February 10, 2014 - 7:03:39 am
Syria’s government delegation arrived in Geneva yesterday for a fresh round of talks with the opposition representatives. Meanwhile in Syria, six hundred people left the besieged central Homs, escaping more than a year of hunger and deprivation caused by one of the bloodiest conflicts in the region. The evacuees were mainly women, children and old men. They were brought out by the United Nations and Syrian Red Crescent on the third day of an operation during which the aid convoys came under fire and were briefly trapped in the city.

Expectations are extremely low about the prospects of talks being held in Geneva. There are more disagreements than agreements, and both sides are stubborn on some of the positions they have taken. President Bashar Al Assad will not agree on any deal that involves his removal from power, and the rebels will not agree to anything that will see a continuation of his rule. Still both sides are desperate to find a way out of this stalemate. The fighters are human beings and no human beings will be able to take the kind of blows which this battle is dealing them.

Amid  all the pessimism and bloodbath, it will be wrong to say that the Geneva talks are a complete failure. At least the six hundred people, including children, women and the elderly, who escaped from the besieged Homs will thank the United Nations and both Assad and the rebels for giving back their lives to them. Their evacuation and delivery of aid was the first concrete, though modest, result of talks launched two weeks ago in Switzerland to try to end the civil war. Also, hundreds and perhaps thousands of people will benefit from the delivery of aid.

Syria’s conflict has so far killed more than 130,000 people, driven millions from their homes and devastated whole city districts -- particularly in Homs, a centre of protest when the 2011 uprising against 40 years of Assad family rule first erupted. There is no end in sight to the conflict and those who have arrived in Geneva have done so with least hope. While the regime insists that the talks focus on fighting ‘terrorism, a term it has been using right from beginning to characterize this uprising, the opposition is demanding that the priority in Geneva must be on an agreement on a transition that excludes Bashar Al Assad.

While progress on any major contentious point is very difficult, both sides need to focus on smaller things. More Syrians must be provided aid and evacuated from the battle zones. They need to explore the possibility of announcing a ceasefire. Even a week’s ceasefire can make a huge difference to the lives of Syrians.