There's an interesting dynamic to keep an eye on in Syria right now. In the wake of President Bashar al-Assad's June 20 speech at Damascus University, the regime appears to be scaling back its heavy-handed response to the country's nearly fourth-month uprising. It's permitted foreign journalists to return to Damascus and even attend anti-government protests, allowed some of the country's most prominent dissidents to hold a conference, scheduled a "national dialogue" for July, withdrawn its forces from Syria's fourth-largest city, Hama, and other flashpoints, and acknowledged, in interviews and in state media, that "peaceful protesters" are actually protesting and voicing "legitimate demands," though officials still maintain that extremists are hijacking those demands and must be dealt with by force.
To be sure, this softening stance comes with restrictions. The foreign journalists, for example, are escorted by government "minders" and barred from leaving Damascus, and the opposition conference didn't include opposition parties or protest organizers. Some analysts and activists are also cynical about the motivations behind the government's recent actions. The regime may simply want foreign journalists in town so it can best the opposition in a propaganda war, for instance, and may be pulling its troops out of restive locations because its forces are simply stretched too thin. What's more, the regime is reportedly still cracking down violently on demonstrators, if perhaps not on the same scale that it once did. Security forces killed eleven people today across the country, according to Al Jazeera.