It took three years to bring Syrians together for negotiations, but it took less than an hour for acrimony and rancour to take over as diplomats bickered, fought and insulted each other at the start of long-awaited peace talks in Switzerland.
Walid al-Muallem, the Syrian Foreign Minister, appearing in the same room as the opposition for the first time, refused to countenance calls for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down. Instead, he claimed that the revolution against his rule comprised nothing more than terrorists sent to the country by "princes and emirs living in mud and backwardness".
He told opposition delegates sitting in the hall: "You should not be traitors to the Syrian people, agents in the pay of enemies of the Syrian people."
At one point he squabbled with Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, refusing to keep to the time limit imposed on speeches. "I have the right to give the Syrian version in this forum."
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In return, Ahmed al-Jarba, the head of the opposition Syrian National Coalition, accused Assad of committing atrocities not seen in Europe since World War II, and demanded he face justice for war crimes. "The pictures of torture are unprecedented except in the Nazi camps," he said, referring to the recent release of photographs of inmates allegedly tortured and murdered by the regime.
Few expect the talks to lead to a breakthrough.