Syria, Opposition Meet for First Time, Silently

They don't address each other, only the UN mediator

By Newser Editors and Wire Services

Posted Jan 25, 2014 7:49 AM CST

(Newser) – Small steps: The first face-to-face meeting between Syria's government and the opposition hoping to overthrow Bashar al-Assad started and ended after barely a half-hour today. The two sides faced each other silently as a UN mediator split the distance between them and laid groundwork for talks intended to lead Syria out of civil war. After tense days spent avoiding each other and meeting separately with the mediator in Geneva, Assad's handpicked delegation and representatives of the Syrian National Coalition gathered briefly at a single U-shaped table, then emerged and went separate ways, using different doors to avert contact.

Only the mediator, Lakhdar Brahimi, spoke, according to Anas al-Abdeh, who was among the coalition's representatives. "It was not easy for us to sit with the delegation that represents the killers in Damascus, but we did it for the sake of the Syrian people and for the sake of the Syrian children." Al-Abdeh said the antagonists would face each other again later today but would address only the mediator, not each other. First on the agenda is a cease-fire in the city of Homs, Syria's third-largest city.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, center, arrives for the  start of a meeting at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem, center, arrives for the start of a meeting at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva.   (Salvatore Di Nolfi)
U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press briefing.
U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi listens during a press briefing.   (Anja Niedringhaus)
Anas al-Abdeh, center, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, after a meeting with a delegation of the Syrian government.
Anas al-Abdeh, center, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, after a meeting with a delegation of the Syrian government.   (Anja Niedringhaus)
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