Syrian prez outlines new peace formula

No dialogue with puppets of foreign powers: Assad

Syrian prez outlines new peace formula

A defiant President Bashar al-Assad presented what he described as a new initiative on Sunday to end the war in Syria but his opponents dismissed it as a ploy to cling to power.

Appearing before cheering supporters who packed the Damascus Opera House, it was his first such speech since June and first public appearance of any kind since a television interview in November.

He called for national mobilisation in a “war to defend the nation”, describing rebels fighting his regime as terrorists and foreign agents with whom it was impossible to negotiate.

His new initiative, including a reconciliation conference that would exclude “those who have betrayed Syria”, contained no concessions and appeared to recycle proposals that opponents have rejected since the uprising began nearly two years ago.

The opposition National Coalition said the speech was an attempt to thwart an international agreement, backed by Western and Arab powers, that he must stand down.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “empty promises of reform fool no one”. In a Twitter message, he added: “Death, violence and oppression engulfing Syria are of his own making.”

Assad spoke confidently for about an hour before a crowd of cheering loyalists, who occasionally interrupted him to shout and applaud, at one point raising their fists and chanting: “With blood and soul we sacrifice for you, Oh Bashar!”

At the end of the speech, supporters rushed to the stage, mobbing him and shouting: “God, Syria and Bashar is enough!” as a smiling Assad waved and was escorted from the hall. “We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word,” Assad said in the speech, broadcast on Syrian state television. “This war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation.”

Saying that “suffering is overwhelming” the land, he added: “The nation is for all and we all must protect it.”

Assad’s speech seemed ostensibly aimed at showing Syrians, and perhaps diplomats, that he is open to change.

But the plan could hardly have been better designed to ensure its rejection by the opposition. Among its proposals: rebels would first be expected to halt their operations before the army would cease fire, a certain non-starter.

Assad repeatedly described parts of the opposition as agents of foreign powers who could not be included in any negotiations: “We will not have dialogue with a puppet made by the West,” he said.

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