Syrian Constitutional Committee kicks off in Geneva
The committee is mandated, within the context of a UN-facilitated Geneva process, to prepare and draft for popular approval constitutional reforms paving the way for a political settlement in Syria.
Special UN Envoy for Syria Geir Pedersen, together with the Constitutional Committee co-chairs, Ahmad Kuzbari from the Syrian regime and HadiAlbahra from the opposition, launched the start of the committee's work in an opening ceremony with its 150 members.
"This is a historic moment," Pedersen told the opening ceremony.
Pedersen said he expects the committee to be "patient and persistent."
"I know that it is not easy for all of you to be here and to gather in this room, and I respect that. There are deep feelings among you," he added.
Pedersen said that sitting face-to-face and being ready for dialogue and negotiations is a "powerful sign of hope" for Syrians.
During the ceremony, there was no contact between members of the two sides.
Divergent views seeking similarities
Opposition Co-Chair Albahra, for his part, said: "It is no secret that the 150 people gathered in this room today have divergent views on many issues, some simple and some fundamental.
"But after the painful eight years that plagued our people in Syria, we came here determined to seek similarities rather than differences, because we are fully aware of the expectations of an entire nation awaiting salvation from an unimaginable suffering."
Albahra added their objective is to revive Syria for all Syrians through a process that is committed to respecting political pluralism.
"To do that, we must change the current situation and must change the way we think and stop thinking emotionally. We must start listening to each other and determining the commonalities between one another," he added.
Kuzbari, leading the regime delegation, affirmed that they would work sincerely on everything that can improve conditions for the public.
"This can only succeed with strong and clear determination to preserve the unity and sovereignty and independence of our people," he said.
Kuzbari warned that the presence of any foreign forces on their territory "threatens the entire political process."
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Bashar al-Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Since then, over 5 million civilians have become refugees. Turkey hosts 3.6 million of them, more than any country in the world.