Syrian President Bashar Assad made his first public appearance in months on Sunday, calling for a "full national mobilisation" to fight against rebels he described as al Qaeda terrorists.
The address, which comes amid growing international pressure, an alarming civilian death toll and daily achievements by rebel forces, was another attempt by the incumbent president to assure his public – and the Arab world – that he is still in control of the war-torn nation.
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Assad's entrance to the hall was met with cheering applause by his supporters.
"We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land. There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country," Assad said in a speech at the opera house in central Damascus.
"The nation is for all and we all must protect it Syria will not exit its crisis without full national mobilisation. There is no security in Syria. The terrorists are the enemies of the people and the enemies of Allah."
The "so-called revolution is fictitious," he continued. "What is happening in Syria is revenged sicced on the people by the terrorists over their refusal to allow them to disband Syria.
Ready to negotiate? Assad (Photo: AFP)
"This is a conflict between the homeland and its enemies, the people and their assassins. But the people are stronger than them and the people will teach them a lesson," he said.
"We are dealing with heretics who are fostering al-Qaeda's ideas… many of these heretics are not Syrians," he stressed. He described the rebel forces as "bloodthirsty savages."
The civil war in Syria has regional ramifications, he said: "Some are trying to divide Syria, some neighbors here have turned against Syria and others are seeking a place in history because they have none. They seek their place in history through the Syrian people's democracy. But Syria is stronger."
Damascus' enemies "wish to remove it from the regional equation. And this isn't a war between the army and some gangs, this is about external aggression," he continued.
Assad also thanked Russia, China and Iran for their support: "Some countries… have refused to cower before the West and said that Syria alone must decide its fate. We salute you and we thank you for your support.
Damascus in ruins (Photo: AFP)
"Syria will unite against the (rebels') ideological threat," he continued, reiterating that "Syria will drive the terrorist ideology out… Security and political reform go hand in hand. The fact that (the opposition) is not a partner doesn’t mean we don’t want a political solution.
'Syria must manage its own affairs'
"Anyone who thinks there can be only a political solution to the situation in Syria is either ignorant or trying to help the terrorist destroy this country. We will not allow that."
Repeatedly interrupted by roaring applause, Assad announced what he described as a peace plan, calling for a "national dialogue" after the end of military operations. He called for a "reconciliation conference with those who have not betrayed Syria," to be followed by the formation of a new government and an amnesty.
"The first stage of a political solution would require that regional powers stop funding and arming (the opposition), an end to terrorist operations and controlling the borders," he said.
But Syrian, he stressed, "Will not hold a dialogue with a puppet made by the West… The West is the one to close the door on talks. They have gotten used to giving us orders and we reject them.
"Syrian is willing to accept assistance, but not arbitrary tyranny. We are willing to accept advice, but not directives. Any (Western) initiative must come alongside the Syrian vision. Once the government forms a vision, any further initiative can only help. But we don’t need a foreign initiative – we can find our own political solutions. Syria has to run its own affairs."
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