Syrian Opposition Leaders Gather In Damascus Members of the Syrian opposition gather for an unprecedented meeting in Damascus. Many of these people have spent years in prison for their opposition to the Assad regime, yet they have been emboldened by President Bashar Assad's call for national dialogue. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Deborah Amos for more.
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Syrian Opposition Leaders Gather In Damascus

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Syrian Opposition Leaders Gather In Damascus

Syrian Opposition Leaders Gather In Damascus

Syrian Opposition Leaders Gather In Damascus

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Members of the Syrian opposition gather for an unprecedented meeting in Damascus. Many of these people have spent years in prison for their opposition to the Assad regime, yet they have been emboldened by President Bashar Assad's call for national dialogue. Melissa Block talks to NPR's Deborah Amos for more.

ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

BLOCK: And, Deb, up to this point, the government has shown zero tolerance for dissent. They've cracked down violently on protesters. So how do you explain that so many dissidents not only met inside Syria, but did so with the government's blessing?

DEBORAH AMOS: NPR is in Syria with a small group of international journalists, and even our government escorts - the people who go with us to all of our interviews - said, you can go to that meeting without us, if you'd like. We just don't want to interfere.

BLOCK: Hmm. Well, who was there at that meeting?

AMOS: They talked all day about how to transition Syria to a democracy, how to end the crisis. This crisis has become dangerous. Syria is more isolated than ever. The economy is tanking. There is the emergence of armed groups. And the security services are still shooting and arresting protesters who call for change.

BLOCK: And, Deb, some of the organizers of those protests objected to any meeting that was sanctioned by the government. They said it was basically a smoke screen to divert attention from the crackdown. Does that signal a real split in the opposition?

AMOS: The young activists who organized the street demonstrations, they stayed away. Some of the political social media pages that track the protest movement condemned the meeting. Hocus-Pocus, Assad Style was their headline today. And some suggested that it was the government's strategy all along, to allow this first ever above-ground meeting that would split the opposition, and that it has or at least it's defined the splits.

BLOCK: We mentioned that President Assad proposed a national dialogue as a way out of the crisis. And the government news agency in Syria announced today that the first such dialogue will take place on July 10th. Who will those talks be with?

AMOS: So there are Syrians who have faced bullets on the streets. For them, to sip bottled water and talk about democracy today. So there's a great pressure not to betray what the revolution is about and not sit down with this government until the violence stops.

BLOCK: OK. Thank you, Deb.

AMOS: Thank you.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Deborah Amos. She's one of the few Western journalists who's been allowed into Syria to report. She spoke with us from Damascus.

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