As another harsh winter looms, the Syrian government and its opposition remain deadlocked in talks over a civil war, now in its seventh year. While representatives of the Bashar Al Assad regime and its opponents meet in the salubrious surroundings of Geneva under the auspices of the United Nations, ordinary Syrians face yet another freezing, merciless winter, in a war which has claimed more than 330,000 lives.
Syria as a unified country exists only in people's memories and on maps. Despite the boasts of victory made by Mr Al Assad, backed by his Russian paymasters, he is a long way from winning over his people, who rebelled against his barbaric and totalitarian rule in March 2011. The considerable opposition to his presidency, under the umbrella of the High Negotiations Committee, says he needs to go. A solution is only realistic if both sides stop briefing against one another in a game of political chess where the stakes are life and death.
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Mr Al Assad did everything he could to undermine the talks, including delaying sending a representative to Geneva. Even as his chief negotiator Bashar Al Jaafari was exchanging pleasantries in Geneva, his leader's regime continues to starve and maim people in eastern Ghouta.
A meaningful long-term solution is undoubtedly going to be difficult to negotiate. But the least that delegates can do is to try to end the suffering of Syrians. Mr Al Assad and his sponsors, giving lip service to the need for change, want to temporise and frustrate the opposition. They should not fall into this trap. The millions of Syrians displaced internally and scattered across the globe – and the hundreds of thousands who have lost their lives – deserve action, not words. The world will have failed them yet again if the talks in Geneva conclude with more words and no action at all.
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