Syrian Opposition Meet in Rome, Appeal for Cease-fire

Representatives of a dozen Syrian opposition groups called for a cease-fire in their homeland and the beginning of an internationally mediated dialogue to bring democracy to the country. Meeting in Rome July 25-26, the groups, which included some inspired by Islam, said they are "firmly opposed to any discrimination based on religious confession or ethnicity." The 14 men and three women involved in Syria's pro-democracy movements met under the auspices of the Community of Sant'Egidio, a Rome-based Catholic lay group that promotes dialogue and charity. "While violence is prevailing and on a rampage in our country," the political opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad felt "it was important to sit together and think about a political solution," said Faiez Sara, a writer and member of the Democratic Forum, who had been imprisoned for his political activities in Syria. He said it was time to stop "the killings perpetrated by the regime or committed by the victims of the regime who have taken up weapons." The opposition leaders signed their "Rome Appeal," calling for a negotiated end to Assad's rule and the beginning of a transition to "a Syria that is democratic, civil and safe for all, without fear and without oppression." In addition to insisting on the retreat of government forces, they asked "our fellow citizens in [opposition] the Free Syrian Army and all those bearing arms, to participate in a political process to establish a peaceful, secure and democratic Syria." Also on July 26, the Catholic bishops of Syria held an abbreviated summer meeting in Aleppo, which had been the scene of fierce fighting. "In Aleppo, the situation is very tense, but right now there are not problems for the Christians. There are fears that the situation could worsen and that the militants could penetrate the Christian quarters, but that has not happened," Melkite Archbishop Jean-Clement Jeanbart of Aleppo said. "If the West wants to help the Syrian people," he said, "support and pressure for dialogue.

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