DNE and Press Agencies – In his first public speech in seven months, Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad on Sunday announced what he described as a peace initiative, calling for a reconciliation conference with “those who have not betrayed Syria”, to be followed by the formation of a new government and a constitution.
Assad, however, says the initiative can only take roots after regional and Western countries stop funding what he called militant extremists fighting to overthrow him. “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, adding that his government will not have dialogue with “a puppet made by the West”.
He said that his government has “not found partners” for a political solution to the country’s 21-month crisis. “Just because we have not found a partner, it does not mean we are not interested in a political solution, but that we did not find a partner,” the president said to wild applause in the Dar Al-Assad for Culture and Arts in Central Damascus.
As in previous speeches, Assad said his forces were fighting groups of “murderous criminals” and jihadi elements and denied there was an uprising against his family’s decades-long rule. He said the conflict was not one between the government and the opposition but between the “nation and its enemies.”
“The one thing that is sure that those who we face today are those who carry the Al-Qaeda ideology,” Assad said, repeating previous assertions that “foreign terrorists” are behind the uprising in his country. “There are those who seek to partition Syria and weaken it. But Syria is stronger… and will remain sovereign… and this is what upsets the West.”
Assad last spoke in public on 3 June when he addressed parliament in Damascus. In November he gave an interview to Russian television in which he dismissed suggestions he would go into exile, saying said he would “live and die” in Syria.
Since then he has not commented on the conflict which has ravaged his country, killing at least 60,000 people in the 21 months since an anti-regime revolt erupted in March 2011 according to UN figures.
In his speech on Sunday, however, he came out fighting, appealing to all Syrians to join together to defend the nation. “Everyone must defend it… the attack on the entire nation… every citizen who is aware… and refusing to join solutions is taking the nation backwards,” he said.
The president, who was frequently interrupted by chants of “With our soul with our blood we sacrifice ourselves for you O Bashar”, said any change must come through constitutional means and appealed for dialogue once the fighting has ended.
His initiative will most likely be rejected by opposition forces and rebels, who insist he must step down.