Assad Blames Terror, Foreigners for Unrest, Calls for Unity

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad brushed aside growing foreign pressure on his government, telling parliament that the country is facing a “real war” and blaming terrorists and foreign elements for the violence.

“The crisis is not an internal crisis but an external war with domestic tools,” Assad said in a speech today. “What is required today is to stand united.”

Burhan Ghalioun, head of the opposition Syrian National Council, dismissed the speech as “pre-death delusions” and said he expects the rebel Free Syrian Army to switch to a more offensive mode and to start attacking forces loyal to Assad.

Assad has repeatedly blamed the violence, which according to United Nations estimates has left as many as 10,000 people dead, on terrorists and foreign forces seeking to undermine the state. France, Germany, the U.K. and U.S. have accused the Assad regime of undermining peace efforts with military assaults against opponents.

Kofi Annan, the UN special envoy to Syria, said yesterday that the level of violence has “escalated” and “the specter of total civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day.” He spoke after a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers in Doha, Qatar.

Western countries ejected top Syrian diplomats from their capitals last week to protest the massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, a cluster of villages in central Syria.

Massacre Reaction

Assad condemned the Houla massacre, saying not even “monsters” could carry out such an act. The UN Human Rights Council has called for a probe into those deaths, which it said was the work of “pro-regime elements.” Syrian officials have blamed gunmen for the slayings. According to UN estimates, 108 people were killed, including 49 children.

The speech tells “you that he’s not going to change course and it may be because he feels he’s still in a position of some strength,” Salman Shaikh, director of the Brookings Doha Center, said in a telephone interview.

While Western and other leaders have called on Assad to stand down and quit the country, saying he has lost the legitimacy to lead, Russia and China have blocked UN Security Council resolutions pushing for stronger sanctions.

Assad told parliament that the doors for dialogue are open for opposition figures who have no foreign affiliation or a hand in violence.

He also said that promised changes such as parliamentary elections have failed to stop the violence.

“The political process is moving forward but terrorism is escalating,” he told parliament.

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal accused the Syrian government of “playing for time and maneuvering.”

“Every initiative that has been presented has been accepted by the Syrian regime but was not implemented,” al-Faisal said told a news conference in the Saudi Red Sea port city of Jeddah.

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