Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed a wave of protests on "conspirators" who are trying to destroy the country as well as "enemies with an Israeli agenda", giving his first address to the nation Wednesday since the demonstrations erupted nearly two weeks ago.
"Our enemies work every day in an organized and public fashion to hurt Syria," Assad said. "Our enemies' aim was to divide Syria as a country and force an Israeli agenda onto it, and they will continue to try and try again."
As he entered Parliament for the speech, legislators chanted "God, Syria and Bashar only!" and "Our souls, our blood we sacrifice for you Bashar."
The speech is seen as a crucial test for his leadership and one that may determine Syria's future.
Assad said a minority of people had tried to "spark chaos" in the southern city of Deraa, centre of recent protests, but that they would be thwarted by the majority.
He added that security forces were given "clear instructions" not to harm citizens during the protests.
Human rights groups say more than 60 people have been killed since March 18 in a crackdown on the protests.
Assad also implied that Israel was partly responsible for the protests. Israel has been "inciting for weeks against Syria in its satellite channels and internet without success", he said, adding that the state had "forged information".
"This was organized, an organized foundation. They began in Deraa. There are some who say Deraa is on the border, but we say it is in every Syrian's heart," he said.
"Deraa is a county near the Israeli enemy. A man cannot defend his homeland while at the same time conspire against it, so the citizens of Deraa are not responsible for what happened."
The coming days will be key to determining whether Assad's concessions will quiet the protest movement, which started after security forces arrested several teenagers who scrawled anti-government graffiti on a wall in the impoverished city of Daraa in the south.
Assad also is expected to announce constitutional amendments and sweeping reforms, including an end to nearly 50 years of widely despised state of emergency laws that give the regime a free hand to arrest people without charges. On Tuesday, Assad fired his Cabinet in another move designed to pacify the anti-government protesters.
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