As death toll rises, president sacks Hama governor

President Bashar al-Assad dismissed the governor of Hama on Saturday, the third city governor to be sacked since protests began in March.

State news agency SANA said the president issued a decree dismissing Ahmad Khalid Abdul Aziz, governor of Hama province, without giving further details.

President Assad had already recalled the governors of Dera’a, where protests first broke out on March 18, and Homs.

The move followed large anti-government demonstrations in the city, where the military and security forces have been less visible of late, as the army pursues a military campaign in Idleb province in Syria’s northwest.

Over the weekend 14 villagers were reportedly killed in Idleb as well as 10 in Homs, Damascus suburbs and the Mediterranean city of Latakia, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, state television reported that 5,000 residents of Jisr al-Shaghour and surrounding villages returned home from Turkey and the nearby countryside where they had sought refuge.

More than 1,360 civilians and 340 soldiers and police have been killed during the government’s crackdown against anti-government protests since mid-March, according to human rights groups.

But the government keeps no record of civilian deaths and says the violence is the result of “armed gangs” fighting to destabilise the country, who are backed by foreign powers.

Human Right Watch on Saturday said security forces and their allies killed 21 people in the last fortnight in Syria’s third-largest city of Homs.

The military is also reportedly preparing to enter Hama, according to The National, where last week residents told international news agencies the army had withdrawn.

The army and security forces withdrew from Hama on June 5, after a weekend of violence left over 70 people dead.

National dialogue discussed as opposition holds conferences

Chaos erupted at a “national initiative” conference held in Damascus on Sunday that was organised by a group of “independent intellectuals”, according to the meeting’s coordinator Mohammed Habash, an “independent” Member of Parliament.

According to Al-Watan, although the conference at the Semiramis Hotel was approved by the vice-president’s office, but the management of the hotel initially refused to let participants in, prompting several to withdraw in protest. More than 200 people were invited to the meeting, but only about 40 attended.

The hotel was the scene of another conference last week, which was better attended, although there were also evident divisions between opposition members over its mandate and several prominent activists boycotted the meeting.

The president has also promised a national dialogue to discuss political reform in Syria, and authorities say preliminary talks with the opposition will take place on July 10.

Meanwhile, prominent opposition figures plan to convene their own “national salvation” conference in Damascus on July 16 to reach a broad-based blueprint for solving Syria’s political crisis.

In light of the military solution chosen by the regime to end the revolution, the conference aims to reach a consensus guided by the popular protest movement for a transitional period and a national salvation government that lays the foundation for a new constitution and free elections,” said a statement by the organisers sent to Reuters.

It was signed by 50 figures including Kurdish leader Mesha’al al-Tammo, former judge Haitham al-Maleh, Nawaf al-Bashir, a tribal leader from eastern Deir Ez-Zor province, economist Aref Dalila and Walid al-Bunni, a physician who took part in the Damascus Spring movement ten years ago.

The government has also been organising “dialogue seminars” at universities across the country where students have discussed possible measures to solve the crisis.

According to the pro-government daily Al-Watan, the talks have included giving seats in parliament to ‘youth’, creating a ministry for youth and sport, and reform of educational institutions.

Syria Today (Syria)