Syria peace talks observe moment of silence for war dead
By PATRICK J. MCDONNELL | Los Angeles Times | Published: January 31, 2014
BEIRUT — Describing a sixth day of Syrian peace talks as both “tense” and “promising,” the chief United Nations mediator said both sides observed a moment of silence Thursday in memory of the tens of thousands who have perished in the civil war.
“The opposition suggested a moment of silence for all the dead in Syria, irrelevant to which camp they belonged, and the government delegation immediately agreed,” Lakhdar Brahimi, the U.N. mediator, told a news conference in Geneva, where the talks are taking place. “And we had that moment of silence.”
The pause appeared to be an exceptional instance of mutual accord in a process that has been mired in dispute and a fundamental disagreement about a core issue: the future of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
The opposition bloc says the nascent peace process should inevitably result in Assad’s removal from power. The government says only the Syrian people can make that decision in an election.
Friday is expected to be the final day in this initial round of the long-awaited peace talks, first proposed more than eight months ago. Initiating the process were two outside powers — the United States, which backs the opposition, and Russia, a major ally of Assad’s government.
Diplomats have said that the major accomplishment of the Geneva talks so far is that both sides finally agreed to sit down with each other and neither camp walked out, despite their differences. The talks have helped focus international attention on the plight of tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in communities blockaded by one side or the other in the conflict.
“We had tense moments and also rather promising moments,” Brahimi said Thursday. “This is, unfortunately, a civil war, or a situation of civil war.”
More than 100,000 people have died in the Syrian conflict, which began almost three years ago.