Syrian opposition boycotts 'national dialogue' over ongoing violence

The government crackdowns on Homs and Hama continued today, reinforcing the opposition's doubts that the Assad regime will pursue reforms.

Bassem Tellawi/AP
Top Syrian officials, including Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa, intellectuals and some less prominent opposition figures attend the opening session of the government-sponsored reform talks, in Damascus, Syria, on Sunday, July 10.

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The Syrian government continued Monday a "national dialogue" on reform without key opposition leaders. And while the dialogue entered a second day, so has the deadly government assault on one of the country's largest cities.

Leaders of the reform movement say they will not negotiate with the government as long as it was attacking protesters. On Monday, government forces killed at least one person and wounded 20 in an assault on Homs that included tanks and armor. Activists say hundreds of people have been arrested there in the last week, Reuters reports.

“They are blockading [restive] cities and killing demonstrators, arresting people, and torturing people to death," said Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for a group of antigovernment activists, according to the Associated Press. “That cannot create a good environment for dialogue."

At least 1,400 people have been killed since protests began in March, according to Syrian human rights groups.

At the dialogue in Damascus, which included mostly Baath Party members, some independent politicians, and Syrian intellectuals, Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa called for a transition to democracy and credited the protesters with encouraging reforms. Still, he warned against further demonstrations.

The AP notes that a call for a multiparty democracy from a top government official is a sign of how much the protests have shaken the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad regime, which has held power for more than 40 years.

The Wall Street Journal reports that speeches at the dialogue did not call for the removal of Mr. Assad, but did advocate an end of one-party rule in Syria.

Clashes also persisted in the city of Hama, where forces continue carrying out raids that began last week. Protesters in Hama are still running checkpoints in and out of the city and resisting Syrian military efforts to enter the city.

US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford was reportedly summoned to Damascus Sunday for a reprimand from the government for an unauthorized visit he made to Hama last week, but a State Department official said Mr. Ford was in Damascus for a meeting with the foreign minister that was scheduled before his stop in Hama, the Journal reports.

Ford complained to the government about protests outside the US embassy in Damascus calling for him to leave the country. Protesters threw tomatoes, eggs, glass, and rocks, according to the state department official. In a complaint letter, Ford wrote that those outside the embassy "resorted to violence, unlike the people in Hama, who have stayed peaceful."

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