DAMASCUS (AFP) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad Wednesday launched a "national dialogue" while freeing hundreds of political prisoners in an amnesty opposition groups and Washington say does not go far enough. State television said Assad had set up a committee and charged it with "formulating general principles of dialogue that will open the way for the creation of an appropriate climate in which the different elements can express themselves and present their proposals." The committee will include Syrian Vice President Faruq al-Shara, senior members of the ruling Baath Party and the National Progressive Front (NPF, a coalition of parties led by Baath), as well as one author and one teacher. "All parties should contribute to widening participation (in the political process), to the development of an electoral law and to a law on political parties," Assad said. The opposition has previously dismissed calls for dialogue, saying that this can take place only once the violence ends, political prisoners are freed and reforms adopted. The demand that prisoners be freed was partially met on Wednesday when, according to a rights activist, hundreds of detainees were released from prisons across the country under an amnesty declared by Assad on Tuesday. "Hundreds of people have been released," said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. "Fifty of them are from Banias, including the 76-year-old poet Ali Derbak," he added, but "thousands of political prisoners remain in jail and are to be released at any time." Leaders of the communist Labour Party were unable to benefit from the amnesty as the decree excluded people convicted of joining "an organisation to change the social and economic status of the state," said Rahman, reached by telephone. He also claimed that a civilian was killed Wednesday in Rastan, near Homs, where 20 corpses had been taken to hospital. More than 1,100 civilians have been killed and at least 10,000 arrested since protests against Assad's autocratic government erupted in mid-March, human rights organisations say. Washington, which has been upping the pressure by slapping sanctions on key regime members, said the release of "100 or so political prisoners does not go far enough."