“Victory is near, provided we stand against the conspiracy,” he said in the 110-minute speech, his first since June, broadcast live on state television.
“The priority today is the return of security, which cannot be achieved unless terrorism is hit with an iron fist,” he said.
Assad’s uncompromising tone made it clear that his government feels under no pressure to implement meaningful reforms or relax its crackdown, despite growing evidence that the Syrian economy is unraveling, the protests have not diminished and the uprising is gradually evolving into an armed insurgency.
His scathing attacks on the Arab League, which he accused of acting on behalf of the West and Israel, and his pledge to prioritize the use of force also called into question the sustainability of the League’s mission, launched last month, to oversee the Damascus government’s compliance with a peace plan.
Attacks on monitors in the northern city of Latakia on Monday further narrowed the chances that the mission, already condemned as ineffectual by many activists, will be renewed after its initial mandate expires next Monday.
In a statement issued in Cairo, the League said 11 monitors were lightly injured in two attacks, in Latakia and in Deir al-Zour in the east. The statement indirectly blamed the government for “failing to provide adequate protection in Latakia and other areas” in “serious violation . . . of its commitments.”
A video posted on YouTube showed regime supporters in Latakia swarming, thumping and reaching into a vehicle bearing the markings of the monitoring mission. The Kuwaiti news agency KUNA said two monitors were briefly hospitalized after the attack.
Assad’s speech indicated that he has no intention of implementing the terms of the peace plan, which calls for the army’s withdrawal from the cities and an end to attacks on civilians. In New York, the United Nations’ undersecretary general for political affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, told the Security Council that more than 400 people have died in Syria since the monitors were deployed Dec. 27, U.S. and U.N. officials said. The figure, based on accounts from local and international human rights groups, suggested that the observers’ presence has not worked to deter the violence and may have made it worse.
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, denounced the “vitriol of President Assad’s speech today and further belittling by him of the Arab League.”