In the Syrian town of Hejeira, a fighter from a Shiite militia patrolled last week.
Representatives from the Syrian opposition and from President Bashar Assad's regime will sit down at a negotiating table for the first time on Jan. 22, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's office announced Monday.
The U.N. adds that:
"The secretary-general expects that the Syrian representatives will come to Geneva with ... a serious intention to end a war that has already left well over 100,000 dead, driven almost nine million from their homes, left countless missing and detained, sent tremors through the region and forced unacceptable burdens on Syria's neighbors."
"Diplomats said that the opposition was facing fierce resistance from more militant jihadists inside the country fighting government forces and that the coalition was still struggling to put together a credible negotiating team.
"The basis for talks between Syrian rebels and the Assad government also remain unclear. Opposition groups have insisted Mr. Assad must leave office as part of any settlement, but government officials were equally adamant in comments earlier this month that they 'are not going to Geneva to hand over power.' "
As The Associated Press notes, "one of the biggest sticking points has been the future role of President Bashar Assad." Other issues, it points out, have revolved around "who should represent the Syrian opposition and government ... and whether Iran, Saudi Arabia and other regional powers should be at the table."