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The New Arab Staff & Agencies

Syria talks end on positive note after Covid-19 scare

The discussions reportedly got off to a difficult start. [Getty]

Date of publication: 30 August, 2020

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Syria's government and opposition delegations have found commonalities despite disagreements, sources involved in the negotiations said.

Talks on a new constitution for Syria wrapped up Saturday in Geneva without concrete progress but the UN mediator said the players had found "commonalities" and were keen to meet again.

UN envoy Geir Pedersen has voiced hope that the tentative talks in Geneva between representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's government, the opposition and civil society could eventually pave the way for a broader political process in the war-ravaged country.

But the latest round of discussions ended without even an agreement on an agenda or date for the next session.

Pedersen acknowledged to journalists that after nearly a decade of conflict in Syria "obviously there are still very strong disagreements".

But, he said, he had been "extremely pleased to hear the two co-chairs [of the government and opposition delegations] saying very clearly that they thought also there were quite a few areas of commonalities."

The chief opposition negotiator Hadi al-Bahra agreed.

While "there were certain points of disagreements, ... I believe the commonalities were larger than the differences," he said

A source with the Syrian government delegation meanwhile told the Syrian state news agency SANA the delegation was "keen on continuing to work openly in upcoming rounds."

'Encouraging'

Pedersen said he had received a clear message from all sides that they were eager to meet again, which he said was "encouraging".

He acknowledged that the discussions, which marked the first UN attempt to resume in-person diplomatic negotiations in Geneva since the novel coronavirus forced the city to close down in March, got off to a difficult start.

Just hours after the talks began on Monday they had to be put on hold after four delegates tested positive for Covid-19.

The committee members - 15 each from the government, the opposition and from civil society - were tested for the new coronavirus before they travelled to Geneva, and were tested again on arrival in the Swiss city.

Some delegates tested positive in Geneva.

Pedersen, whose office decided to resume the talks Thursday afternoon after Swiss health authorities said it would be safe to do so, said he believed the incident showed it was possible to move ahead with talks in a responsible manner.

"It is possible to handle even complicated cases as long as you follow strictly medical protocol and the advice you are receiving," he said.

"That is why we also hope that it will be possible to have the next round here in Geneva," he said.

Read more: Medic in Syria warns of 'unprecedented catastrophe' from Covid-19 amid underreporting by regime

The Constitutional Committee was created in September last year and first convened a month later, but disagreement over the agenda and the pandemic hindered further meetings until this week.

The United Nations has been striving for more than nine years to nurture a political resolution to Syria's civil war, which has killed more than 380,000 people and displaced more than 11 million.

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