More than 150 Syrian intellectuals and activists, including some of the country's most prominent opposition figures, are meeting to discuss how to end months of violent upheaval and initiate a peaceful transition to democratic rule.
The gathering Monday in the capital, Damascus, began with a singing of the country's national anthem and a minute of silence to honor those killed in anti-government protests since the unrest began in March.
Those attending the meeting - the first to take place inside Syria during the anti-government uprising - said it would be a discussion among independent figures with no ties to the government or any political parties.
Some opposition figures refused to attend Monday's conference, saying any sanctioned meeting could be used by President Bashar al-Assad's government to "bestow legitimacy" on itself.
One youth activist said any decisions made at the gathering "will have no bearing for protesters on the ground."
Syrian authorities were informed of the event and did not block it.
Meanwhile, Syria's state-run news agency SANA said the government will hold talks with the opposition on July 10 to set the framework for a national dialogue. There was no report of who would comprise the opposition delegation.
In a televised speech last week, Mr. Assad offered a national dialogue that would begin to review new laws on parliamentary elections, the media and possible reforms to Syria's constitution.
Activists immediately dismissed his promises, saying they failed to meet the demands of protesters who have rallied for democratic changes and defied a fierce military crackdown.
Demonstrators calling for Mr. Assad's ouster have been under assault by pro-government forces for more than 100 days.
More than 12,000 Syrians have fled into Turkey and hundreds more into Lebanon to escape the violence in their homeland.
Rights groups say more than 1,400 people have been killed in the violence, most of them unarmed protesters.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and AFP.