Syria talks may end as stand-off continues

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The Syrian government delegation at peace negotiations in Geneva may leave today if “serious talks” do not start.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem yesterday gave a tight deadline to the UN mediator for talks that have struggled to get off the ground, hours after the UN said the Western-backed opposition and the government delegation would not meet face-to-face as originally hoped.

Mr Al-Moallem and his delegation met UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi yesterday.

Syrian TV said Mr al-Moallem told Mr Brahimi that if “serious talks don’t begin Saturday, the official Syrian delegation will have to leave because the other party is not serious or ready”.

Yesterday was intended to be the first time since the uprising against president Bashar Assad began that the two sides would sit down for direct negotiations – peace talks that have been on the verge of falling apart since they were first floated in 2012.

More than 100,000 people have died since the uprising against the Assad regime began in 2011.

The talks stand-off came as more than 140,000 Iraqis have fled parts of Anbar province over clashes between security forces and al-Qaida militants, the worst displacement of civilians in years, the UN says.

It was “the largest” displacement witnessed in the country since the sectarian violence of 2006-2008, said the spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Peter Kessler, said more than 65,000 people fled the conflict just in the past week alone.

Since late December, members of Iraq’s al-Qaida branch – known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – have taken over parts of Ramadi, the capital of the largely Sunni province of Anbar. They also control the centre of the nearby city of Fallujah.