Syrian activists reject Assad's call for talks Sunday

Syrian activists staged protests today against the talks, arguing that it's impossible to negotiate with President Bashar al-Assad's regime while it is killing and detaining people.

Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
Syrian men living in Jordan shout slogans against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad during a demonstration in front of the Syrian embassy in Amman on July 7.
Muzaffar Salman/AP
A pro-Syrian President Bashar al-Assad protester shouts slogans during a motorcade protest to show support for his president, in Damascus, Syria, on July 7.

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Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has set Sunday as a day of dialogue with opposition figures, but activists today held protests dubbed a day of "no dialogue" – saying they can't talk with a regime that is still arresting and killing its opposition, the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Kill and arrest by two hands and talk about dialogue with the mouth," said Razan Zaitouneh, a lawyer and human rights activist in Damascus, to the Times. "That will not do any good for sure."

In response to the opposition's resistance to talks, Syrian security forces have stepped up their efforts to detain activists, rounding up many of the young protesters leading demonstrations. One activist living in Europe but in contact with those on the ground said that an estimated 100 people have been arrested in one Damascus suburb alone since Monday and possibly as many as 300 people since the weekend, the Times reports.

Mass arrests have also been reported in Jisr Shughur in the north, elsewhere in the province of Idlib, the city of Deraa in the south and in Homs, the country's third-largest city.

Antiregime efforts are building in Damascus, where low-key protests have bubbled for the last few week. The city is still home to many Assad loyalists and those who have little interest in destabilizing the country, so antigovernment activists have had to use more subdued methods to battle the regime, such as boycotts of brands and products owned by people close to Assad, The Wall Street Journal reports. Some businessmen are donating money to protesters and families of people who have been injured by security forces.

Until recently, Damascus's protests remained small, taking place on the outskirts and in poor inner-city neighborhoods. Now they are growing, being held more frequently, and taking place closer to the central, wealthier part of the city. If protests on the scale seen elsewhere in the country unfolded in Damascus, the largest city in the country, the scales could finally be tipped against Assad, the International Crisis Group told WSJ.

"Damascus is likely to be the last place where there will be large scale antiregime protests," a Western diplomat said. "The regime's continued strong grip on [Damascus and Aleppo] also sends a powerful symbolic message to Syrians and outsiders that the regime is still in control of the country."

Meanwhile, the Syrian government has accused the United States of inciting unrest in the country after US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford made an unauthorized visit to Hama. The city, a symbolic center of resistance against the regime since an Islamist uprising was brutally crushed 30 years ago, saw the largest protests yet in the uprising a week ago today. The provincial governor was then fired, however, and regime troops closed in on the city.

"We are greatly concerned about the situation in Hama," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, according to Reuters. "A week ago Hama was the good news story. It was the town where people were being allowed to protest peacefully, and today we see security forces ringing the city."

Ambassador Ford's visit coincides with an uptick in US efforts to persuade the regime against further drastic responses to the antigovernment protests. Obama has warned Assad that he either needs to be at the forefront of a transition to democracy or step down, but recent actions prove Assad intends to take a different path. The US is responding by throwing support behind the protesters, Reuters reports.

"Increasingly we're focusing now on giving our support to those Syrians on the ground who are organizing themselves and who are making clear that they want change," Ms. Nuland said. "As we go forward we need to ensure that this process is Syrian-led, that we are responding to their interests, their needs."

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