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Syria

Opposition expected to press for Assad's ouster as Geneva 2 talks resume

Syrian peace talks have resumed following signs of progress over the weekend. The opposition is expected to press for two controversial demands: the president's resignation and a transitional government.

Negotiations between Syria's warring sides were expected to intensify on Monday as members of the opposition reportedly would begin discussing concrete steps toward a transitional government. Although disagreement over Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's future political role has overshadowed the conference, meetings last week focused primarily on addressing humanitarian concerns in the war-torn country.

UN-Arab mediator Lakhdar Brahimi held a joint meeting with both sides on Monday for the second time since talks began last week.

Signs of progress emerged from talks on Sunday evening when UN-Arab mediator Lakhdar Brahimi announced that women and children trapped in Syria's central city of Homs would be allowed to leave.

"What we have been told by the government side is that women and children in this besieged area of the city are welcome to leave immediately," Brahimi told reporters. "Hopefully starting [on Monday], women and children will be able to leave the Old City in Homs."

Small gains at Syria talks

Homs has experienced some of the worst fighting since the civil war broke out in March 2011. Some 800 families stranded in its Old City continue to face a shortage of food and medical supplies, as well as near-daily shelling.

However, Brahimi did raise some concerns about the fate of the men.

"[The government] wants a list of civilian name. They want to be sure that they aren't armed [rebel] fighters," he added.

Another key agreement over the weekend involved an agreement to exchange prisoners.

The Geneva 2 conference began on January 22 in Montreux, Switzerland, after repeated failed attempts by the international community to bring representatives from the Assad regime and the Syrian opposition together. The first days were marked by intense exchanges over who represented the Syrian people and who could demand Assad's resignation. It wasn't until the weekend that they agreed to meet in the same room.

Fighting in Syria has claimed over 130,000 lives according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Millions of people have been internally displaced and over two million have sought refuge in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Israel.

kms/rc (AP, AFP, dpa)

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