Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stood firm Sunday against global calls for him to step down, blaming a conspiracy for his country’s turmoil and lambasting “enemies” for the incessant bloodshed.
“This is a conflict of those who wanted to take revenge against the people to fragment Syria. Those are the enemies of the people and the enemies of God. And the enemies of God will go to hell,” the president told a packed auditorium of supporters.
His speech, carried live on state-run TV, is al-Assad’s first since June. Since then, tens of thousands of Syrians have been killed, and the country is no closer to a resolution.
During his last publicized speech in June, al-Assad called for unity.
“We are in a state of real war, in every aspect of the words. And when we’re in a state of war, all of our politics has to be concentrated on winning this war,” al-Assad said at the time.
On Sunday, the president denied his forces are behind the 21 months of violence that has wrought misery across the country.
“Many have fallen on the trap that the conflict is between the government and the opposition. … The conflict, ladies and gentlemen, is between the homeland and its enemies — between the people and the killers and the criminals,” al-Assad said.
Battles between al-Assad’s forces and rebels seeking his ouster are raging closer to the president’s doorstep, with some of the fiercest fighting taking place near Damascus.
Recent reports from inside Syria suggest rebels are gaining ground.
Opposition fighters chipped away at al-Assad’s air power Saturday in the northwestern province of Idlib, where 800 rebels pummeled Taftanaz air base with anti-aircraft guns and tanks, a rebel leader said.