Opposition figures to meet in Damascus

A prominent Syrian opposition figure, interviewed by Syria Today in May, told AP that about 200 regime critics and intellectuals will meet in Damascus on Monday “to discuss strategies for a peaceful transition to democracy.

The one-day gathering will be the first such meeting of Damascus-based regime opponents, many of whom have been imprisoned by the Syrian government.

Louay Hussein told the news agency Syrian authorities had not objected to the meeting.

It will come one week after President Bashar al-Assad, in a nationally televised speech, spoke of convening a national dialogue to discuss political reforms.

But reports in the local media seemed aimed at contradicting this report, as Al-Watan newspaper quoted an Italian news agency saying “the opposition in Syria has rejected the government’s offer of political dialogue” adding that “we can neither confirm nor deny this news.”

Minister denies government crackdown

Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mikdad in an interview with CNN denied the government was carrying out a crackdown on anti-government protesters in Syria.

Instead, he said, the protests were fuelled by “extremist religious groups” funded by foreign powers, a line the government has maintained since almost the beginning of the uprising.

More than 1,300 protesters and 340 soldiers and police are thought to have been killed since March 18, when mass protests began in the southern city of Dera’a, according to Syrian human rights groups.

But the government says the figure is far lower (though they have not released a figure for total civilian deaths) and claims most of those were killed by “armed gangs”.

Syria’s army chief, Maj. Gen. Riad Haddad, said on Sunday that 1,300 members of the security forces have been killed.

Around 10,000 are thought to have been jailed on suspicion of being involved in the protests.

Syria News reported the “confessions of three members of the armed terrorist groups that murdered and mutilated security forces personnel, terrorised citizens and committed rape in Jisr al-Shugur,” and said weapons were smuggled in from Turkey.

Over the past three months Syrian state TV has aired what it called the confessions of several terrorists who have been arrested.

Speaking about new EU sanctions that target more senior officials in Syria and Iran and a Syrian businessman, Mikdad said they were “biased” and supported extremist groups.

He said European authorities did not want “to know the reality” and are “biased to the point that they want to support these extremist groups...at the expense of the wishes of the Syrian population.”

If they believe this kind of pressure will change the political positions of Syria vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli conflict, or the way we deal with Europe on...different issues, they are very wrong,” he said.

French Embassy website hacked

On Saturday unknown persons hacked the website of the French Embassy in Syria.

Anyone trying to reach the Embassy’s website is redirected to another site where the tune of the Syrian anthem plays in the background while a message in Arabic and French criticises the “negative aspects of your participation in the conspiracy against Syria and in protest against the F24 channel for the dissemination of false information on Syria”.

The message is followed by pictures of pro-government demonstrations in Syria.

Several pro-government protests have taken place outside the French Embassy in Damascus in recent weeks

Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader backs Assad in speech

The leader of Hezbollah, Hasan Nasrallah said in a speech on Friday that President Bashar al-Assad “has dealt seriously with the people’s demands of reforms,” SANA reports.

In a speech on pro-Hezbollah channel al-Manar TV, Nasrallah said: "Reform process in Syria has begun and will be continued. President Bashar al-Assad talked about putting a mechanism for more comprehensive steps and called for a national dialogue."

Nasrallah also told Lebanon’s state news agency on Friday that it had found three CIA infiltrators in its midst.

The U.S. embassy in Beirut dismissed the report as “empty accusations.”

Around 1,000 more refugees reportedly fled to Lebanon near Wadi Khaled over the weekend, a Lebanese official told AP.

Unlike in May when many Syrians fled fighting in Tel Kalakh, many of the new arrivals were staying with relatives in Beirut and elsewhere, the official said, some returning to Syria on Saturday.

About 12,000 refugees are now in Turkey, as more sought refuge in the five camps set up by the Turkish Red Crescent over the weekend amid a widening Syrian army and security presence near the Syria-Turkey border in Idleb province.

The head of the Syrian Red Crescent, Abdul Rahman al-Attar, said he is waiting for a reply to his request to visit the camps to speak to those who want to return to Syria.

We, as the Red Crescent, guarantee that the Syrian government will not call [the refugees] to account and under no circumstances will security forces take decisions about them,” Abdul Rahman al-Attar said.

Syria Today (Syria)