From organising children’s activities to giving them trauma counselling, volunteers are doing the job of aid agencies.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, has met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus in an effort to shore up support for faltering peace talks.
Wednesday’s meeting is the first direct contact between the men since Brahimi angered the Syrian leader in December by saying the Assad family’s more-than-40-year rule of Syria was “too long”.
Brahimi, an Algerian diplomat, has also managed to upset the Syrian opposition by saying that Iran, Assad’s main backer during the 31-month-old conflict, should attend the so-called Geneva II talks, which are backed by US and Russia.
Rebels and the political opposition say that any negotiations should be based on Assad’s removal.
The dissidents are divided over whether to attend or not.
The government, meanwhile, has said it will not talk peace with the armed opposition, further slimming the possibility for the talks to take place.
International powers are unlikely to meet their goal of convening the talks on November 23 as differences emerge between Washington and Moscow over opposition representation, Arab and Western officials told the Reuters news agency.
The failure of the main Syrian National Coalition to take a clear stance over the talks is also expected to contribute to a delay of up to one month, the officials said.
“A clearer picture will emerge when the United States and Russia meet next week, but all indications show that the November 23 goal will be difficult to meet,” said one of the officials involved in preparing for the talks.
‘Syrians should decide’
Mohammad Riza Shebani, the Iranian ambassador to Syria, said in Damascus on Wednesday that his country was ready to attend the meeting in Geneva.
“Of course, everyone knows Iran’s efforts to help a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Iran’s absence from this meeting does not benefit the meeting,” he said.
The Syrian conflict began in early 2011 as a peaceful protest movement against four decades of Assad family rule, but has degenerated into a civil war and forced millions to flee.
Walid al-Mualem, the Syrian foreign minister, said on Tuesday that Syria would attend the planned peace talks “…but also set some conditions. He said it was up to the Syrian people to decide their fate and the fate of the country.