The UN's mediator on the Syria conflict was to meet high-level Russian and US diplomats in Geneva yesterday in hope of breathing new life into the flagging peace talks as death toll keeps mounting in the nearly three-year civil war.
Lakhdar Brahimi was to meet Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov and US Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman in an attempt to unblock the process.
After three days spent trading blame for the violence wracking Syria, representatives of President Bashar al-Assad's regime and the opposition National Coalition had no scheduled meetings in Geneva yesterday.
"The presence now of the United States and Russia comes at the right time," opposition chief negotiator Hadi Bahra told AFP, saying there was a need to "straighten out the negatives."
The talks that began on January 22 were initiated by Washington, which backs the opposition, and Moscow, a key ally of Syria.
With the process at an apparent standstill Russia seemed prepared to play a greater role, and was expected to put more pressure on the regime to move things forward.
Russia -- which has rejected a Security Council resolution that would allow the delivery of food and aid to besieged Homs and other cities -- on Wednesday proposed a counteroffer that not include the threat of sanctions on Damascus.
Gatilov met Wednesday in Geneva with the regime delegation chief, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, and the opposition said it might meet the Russian diplomat yesterday.
Russia has also proposed a collective meeting with the UN, Washington, Moscow and the Syrian foes, but it remained unclear if the warring parties might be invited to Thursday's meeting between Brahimi, Gatilov and Sherman.
The so-called Geneva II negotiations have so far done nothing to end the nearly three-year civil war which has claimed more than 136,000 lives and forced millions from their homes.
And as Brahimi struggles to prevent peace talks in Geneva from collapsing, a spike in regime air attacks and fighting has sent the death toll in Syria's war soaring.
On Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported at least 51 people killed a day earlier in Aleppo alone, mostly civilians in air raids targeting opposition-controlled areas, as dozens more were killed in the south.
In ravaged Homs, where a humanitarian operation began last Friday, governor Talal al-Barazi said the authorities would focus on screening and clearing scores of men detained after being evacuated from besieged rebel-held areas.
The Observatory has reported an average of 236 people killed daily since the Geneva II process began on January 22, bringing regime and opposition representatives to the negotiating table but producing no concrete result.