Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Monday announced a "general amnesty" for all "crimes" committed to date, a week after a controversial election held amid raging conflict, state television said.
The amnesty decree is the most wide-ranging since the beginning of a revolt against Assad in March 2011, and for the first time extends to those accused under Syria's controversial July 2012 anti-terrorism law.
The government has dubbed all those opposed to Assad's rule - armed opposition fighters and peaceful activists alike - of "terrorism", and used the law to imprison high-profile dissidents.
Should the amnesty be applied, tens of thousands of prisoners held because of their opposition to the regime are expected to be freed.
But rights groups have said previous amnesties were not fully implemented, leaving tens of thousands still languishing in jail. Previous amnesties had excluded "terrorists" and "fugitives".
A human rights lawyer and activist in Damascus said the decree should extend to both those who have been sentenced and to the many thousands being held without charge in security establishments across the country.
It is also the first amnesty that offers clemency to foreign jihadists fighting for the opposition, as long as they hand themselves in within a month. State news agency SANA published the full text of the decree, and said those accused of "plotting, meaning those who carried out terrorist acts or set up a group aimed at changing the economic or social... nature of the state" are to be given a full pardon.
Also promised a pardon are those who "plotted to carry out any crime" as listed under the anti-terrorism law, as well as those accused of joining "a terrorist organisation or of forcing someone to... join a terrorist organisation".
The amnesty also covers those accused of "weakening national sentiment", and people accused of "inciting... an armed rebellion against the authorities".
State television cited Justice Minister Najem al-Ahmad as saying the decree was issued in the context of "social forgiveness, national cohesion calls for coexistence, as the army secures several military victories".