Syria’s Assad calls for full mobilisation
BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday made his first public appearance in months, calling for a “full national mobilisation” to fight against rebels he described as al Qaeda terrorists.
“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.”
Assad further said that his government has “not found partners” for a political solution to the country’s 21-month crisis, in his first public speech in seven months.
“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 Damascus.
He said the conflict was not one between the government and the opposition but between the “nation and its enemies.”
He said the opposition against him was not a revolution.
“That would need thinkers and be based on an idea,” he said. “It needs leadership - who is the leader of this revolution?”
He described the rebels as a “bunch of criminals”.
The president said a “black cloud” of pain had engulfed every corner.
But a defiant Assad also condemned his opponents as “enemies of the people and enemies of God”.
The remarks were his first in public since a Russian television interview in November when he pledged to stay in Syria and fight to the death if necessary. A 21-month uprising against Assad has become a civil war that the United Nations says has killed 60 000 people.
Fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces raged across the country hours before Assad addressed the nation on Sunday, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said rebels fighting to topple the Assad regime have clashed with troops in the southern province of Daraa, the birthplace of the uprising in March 2011. Violence also raged in opposition strongholds in the suburbs of Damascus, which rebels are using as bases to assail the government’s heavy defences in the capital. The regime has responded with a withering assault including barrages by artillery and warplanes.
Assad last spoke publicly in November, vowing to Russia Today TV that he won’t step down despite continued opposition to his rule and international sanctions aimed at isolating his regime. In the November 8 interview, the embattled president dismissed suggestions that he will leave his country as civil war is approaching his seat of power in Damascus, saying he would “live and die in Syria.”
In each of his previous speeches and interviews, the president has dug in his heels saying his regime is fighting a war against terrorists.
Diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian crisis have failed so far to bring an end to the bloodshed, although the international community continues to push for a peaceful settlement.
The president of the UN Security Council said Thursday there are important developments in efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the 21-month conflict in Syria and there could be another US-Russia meeting with international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi next week.
Brahimi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov both said after their meeting last week that the Syrian crisis can only be settled through talks, while admitting that neither the government nor the opposition has shown a desire to compromise. Neither official hinted at a possible solution that would persuade the two sides to agree to a ceasefire and sit down for talks about a political transition.
But Lavrov said Assad has no intention of stepping down - a key opposition demand - and it would be impossible to try to persuade him otherwise. Russia is a close ally of the Syrian government, and has shielded it from punitive measures at the UN.
The revolt started with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60 000 people, according to a recent United Nations recent estimate.