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Syria talks deadlocked over power transfer

Syrian peace talks in Geneva were deadlocked Monday over the explosive issue of transferring power from President Bashar al-Assad's regime, delegates from the warring sides said.

GENEVA: Syrian peace talks in Geneva were deadlocked Monday over the explosive issue of transferring power from President Bashar al-Assad's regime, delegates from the warring sides said.

But both parties said they were not planning to walk away from the talks, even though a session on Monday had broken up with no progress after the regime set out a statement of principles.

The opposition rejected the regime's statement, saying talks needed to focus on a political transition, and UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi ended the session.

"The discussions were not constructive today because of the regime's strategy to deflect... (and) change the subject by talking of terrorism," Rima Fleihan, a member of the opposition National Coalition's delegation, told reporters.

Regime delegation member Buthaina Shaaban said the opposition had rejected discussion of anything other than the creation of a transitional government.

She said the government had presented a statement of "political principles which we thought no two Syrian persons should disagree with" -- including protecting the country's sovereignty, preserving state institutions and stopping the threat from "terrorist" groups.

"We were surprised that this basic paper was rejected by the other side, who either does not have the capacity to acknowledge Syria and its territorial integrity, or they don't care about what's happening to the Syrian people," Shaaban said.

Asked if they were planning to leave the talks, Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Muqdad said: "Never! We shall not leave the table."

Fleihan also said there no plans for the opposition to leave "until the goal of this conference has been achieved, the formation of a transition governing body."

Monday marked the third day of UN-sponsored talks between the two sides in Geneva and the first expected to deal with political issues.

The two sides have been brought together in the biggest diplomatic push yet to end a civil war that has left more than 130,000 dead and forced millions from their homes.

The opposition says Assad must leave power and a transitional government be formed based on an agreement reached during a first peace conference in Geneva in 2012.

The regime says Assad's role is not up for debate at this conference -- dubbed Geneva II -- and denies that the initial Geneva deal requires him to go.

Opposition delegation spokesman Monzer Aqbiq said earlier that after two days of talks on humanitarian issues, the time had come for discussions on political questions.

"We will talk about transition. The Geneva communique... says that there should be a political transition towards democracy, by the formation of a transitional governing body with full executive authority, including army and security," he said.

State media warns of talks "collapse"

In Damascus, official Syrian media made it clear that Assad's continued leadership remained a red line that negotiators would not cross.

"Those who are deluding themselves must understand that the government delegation to Geneva II did not go to this conference to hand power to those who have conspired against the people over the last three years," the Tishreen state newspaper said.

"They are in Geneva to speak in the name of the Syrian people who have been the target of terrorism by armed groups linked to Al-Qaeda," it said.

The regime accuses the opposition and its international backers of promoting "terrorism" in the country, pointing to militant Islamist rebel groups like the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Al-Nusra Front.

The pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper said any optimism about the talks had faded because of the opposition's "inability to negotiate" and warned: "The collapse of the negotiations is now possible."

In the first tangible promise to emerge from the talks, Brahimi said Sunday the regime had agreed to allow women and children safe passage from besieged rebel-held areas of the city of Homs.

The regime's promise raised some hopes of humanitarian relief, but was greeted by scepticism on the ground.

Activists in rebel areas of Homs said residents had "no trust" in the regime and first wanted aid supplies and guarantees that those leaving would not be arrested.

The opposition also raised concerns about a regime demand to receive a list of names of men who want to leave, saying this was part of intelligence gathering.

The Old City of Homs has been under siege since June 2012 after rebels there rose against the regime, with an estimated 500 families living with near-daily shelling and the barest of supplies.

Brahimi repeated his hope on Sunday that a convoy of humanitarian aid could enter the besieged area on Monday, saying rebel forces had already agreed and the local governor was considering the issue.

Sunday's talks also touched on possible prisoner exchanges, with the opposition saying it had a preliminary list of 47,000 people held by the government, including 2,300 women and children whose names it had submitted.

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