Peace Talks Resume as Syrian 'Cease-fire' Collapses

U.N. aid workers reportedly targeted in desperate attempt to help people of Homs. 

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad leaves a press briefing escorted by U.N. police officers at the United Nations in Geneva on Feb. 10, 2014.

Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad leaves a press briefing escorted by U.N. police officers in Geneva. Peace talks between the Syrian regime and opposition groups restarted Monday.

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Syrian peace talks resume in Geneva Monday morning at the end of a supposed three-day cease-fire in the warring nation, where the death toll continues to climb and President Bashar Assad has still not fulfilled his part of an internationally brokered agreement to turn over the regime's most dangerous chemical weapons stockpiles.

Representatives from the regime and rebel forces, as well as negotiators from the U.N. and U.S. reassembled in Switzerland following an initial round of peace talks last month. Among the most pressing deliberations includes the blockaded city of Homs. A three-day peace agreement was supposed to allow medicine, doctors and supplies to enter the embattled city and for refugees to flee.

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The latest talks immediately devolved into both sides assigning blame to the other for the latest violence. 

As many as 600 Homs residents were able to escape over the weekend, despite renewed fighting that broke the supposed cease-fire. The United Nations issued a scathing statement Monday morning following reports that their aid workers were specifically targeted by regime forces.

"I continue to call on those engaged in this brutal conflict to respect the humanitarian pause, ensure the protection of civilians and facilitate the safe delivery of aid," said Valerie Amos, the U.N. undersecretary general for humanitarian affairs. "The United Nations and our humanitarian partners will not be deterred from doing the best we can to bring aid to those needing our help."

Homs represents a key linchpin for both sides of the ongoing conflict, connecting the regime stronghold in Damascus with access and loyalists located on the Mediterranean coast.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki on Friday blasted the Syrian regime’s “utter disregard for human life,” ahead of the U.N. humanitarian aid mission over the weekend.

“We do not expect any goodwill will come from the regime,” she said. “So we are taking every statement that is made with a grain of salt.”

President Barack Obama referenced the dangerous instability in the region in a joint op-ed he wrote with French President Francois Hollande, who is visiting Washington, D.C. this week.

“With the Syrian civil war threatening the stability of the region, including Lebanon, the international community must step up its efforts to care for the Syrian people, strengthen the moderate Syrian opposition,” they wrote.

They cited the key component of the negotiations in Switzerland was the creation of a transitional government in Syria, though both sides of the Syrian civil war have so far not budged on their mutually exclusive views. Obama also lauded the agreement the U.S. and U.N. brokered through the Russian government -- a key Syrian ally -- to remove all chemical weapons from Assad’s stockpiles. The Assad regime has yet to meet any of the deadlines for this deal.

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The U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, will lead the U.S. delegation in Switzerland this week in its continued attempt to make progress in the 3-year-old war, in support of U.N. mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.

“We all can acknowledge that there’s a lot of work ahead,” said the State Department’s Psaki on Friday.

Roughly 130,00 have perished in the fighting that began in early 2011. Millions have been displaced from their homes and more have fled into neighboring countries.

In Washington, D.C., Secretary of State John Kerry was scheduled to meet Monday afternoon with King Abdullah II of Jordan, home to almost 600,000 Syrian refugees.