GENEVA (AP) — Syria's opposition accused the government of preventing aid convoys from reaching a besieged city in central Syria as the two sides were starting political talks that could include discussions on a possible transitional government, a crucial point of contention.
The U.N. envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, who managed to get both sides to sit in the same room over the weekend, would not predict how often they would meet face-to-face on Monday.
An opposition spokesman said they expect that Monday's talks will be about transition.
"Today we will start talking about a new Syria, about transition from starvation to freedom, from torture to human rights and rule of law," said an opposition spokesman, Monzer Akbik.
Syrian government has been unequivocal that the future of President Bashar Assad, and whether he will lead the country — as his family has done since 1970 — is not up for discussion.
"This is a red line. If some people think we are coming here to give them the keys of Damascus they are wrong," Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal al-Mikdad said Sunday.
Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi, however, took a softer line on Monday, saying their delegation was "open to every political discussion."
One of the key guiding principles for the talks in Geneva, which are aimed at stopping years of bloodshed in Syria that has so far claimed over 130,000 lives, and forced millions from their homes, calls for a creation of a transitional government that would be agreed to by both sides.
Three days of talks have so far yielded a narrow and tentative agreement Sunday for the evacuation of women and children trapped in a besieged Syrian city of Homs before aid convoys go in.
Akbib said that the women and children in Homs should decide whether they want to leave or stay after they have received aid. He accused authorities of blocking a convoy of 12 trucks trying to get into the embattled city of Homs and said that "we will judge the regime by what it does, not by what it says.
Syrian state TV said a Syrian official and a U.N. representative were meeting in Homs to discuss how to evacuate women and children from rebel-held areas there. It was unclear when the evacuation would start.
Akbik also said that there was no progress on the issue of prisoner exchange. Al-Mikdad has said that a list of names of prisoners submitted by the opposition was exaggerated, while the opposition has said it has no control over the militants who have kidnapped hundreds of people, including aid workers and journalists.
Syria's state TV also reported that the opposition rejected a paper put forward by the government delegation that calls for abstaining from getting weapons, undergoing training, and get rid of extremism and takfiri ideology.