Syrian president vows to crush ‘conspiracy’
By turns defiant and threatening, President Bashar Assad vowed Tuesday to use an “iron hand” to crush what he called the terrorists and saboteurs behind Syria’s 10-month-old uprising in which thousands of people have been killed.
In his first speech since June, Assad showed a steely confidence in the face of the uprising, one of the bloodiest of the Arab Spring. But opponents called it a rambling address by a leader who is dangerously out of touch.
Assad repeated his past claims that a foreign conspiracy and terrorists are driving the revolt, not peaceful protesters seeking to reform the country.
“We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country,” Assad said in a nearly two-hour speech at Damascus University in a conference hall packed with cheering supporters. He also issued a veiled threat against those who have yet to choose sides.
“Those who stand in the middle are traitors,” Assad said, flanked by Syrian flags. “There is no alternative.”
The conflict in Syria is entering a new and heightened phase, with army defectors and some members of the opposition increasingly turning their weapons on government targets.