Syrian opposition figures meet in Damascus

The Associated Press reports: Syrian opposition figures called Sunday for the overthrow of President Bashar Assad at a rare meeting of anti-regime groups held in the government-controlled capital Damascus, a possible attempt by the gathering to position itself as an alternative to the armed rebellion.

Rebels fighting Assad typically dismiss the so-called “internal opposition” as too lenient on the Syrian dictator, so the strong statements from the 16 parties in the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change in Syria may be aimed at gaining credibility among Syrians who despise the regime but are weary of an uprising that has since devolved into a grinding and bloody civil war. Assad’s government tightly restricts criticism in areas it controls.

But the group would have its work cut out for itself to have its peace initiative, centered on a cease-fire, gain traction. Many rebels look askance at any political plan short of Assad’s immediate ouster, seeing it as a play for time.

Ambassadors from Iran and Russia attended Sunday’s conference. Both countries support Assad, suggesting the regime authorized the gathering to bolster its own rhetoric that there should be a peaceful settlement to the Syrian crisis through dialogue.

A statement distributed to journalists said the participants at the conference have agreed on a number of principles, mainly “overthrowing the regime with all its symbols” while emphasizing the need for “peaceful struggle to achieve the goals of the revolution.”

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