Syria president blames 'outside forces' for crisis
(AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Sunday that his country is facing a "real war," warning that he will not be lenient with the terrorists he says are behind the country's uprising.
"We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal," Assad told parliament in his first speech since January. "We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism."
Assad's remarks defied mounting international condemnation of his regime's crackdown on the opposition. He blamed the crisis on outside forces and said the country is passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism.
He offered a similar message to those in his previous speeches, when he blamed terrorists and foreign extremists for the uprising and vowed to protect national security. The revolt began last March with mostly peaceful protests, but a ferocious government crackdown led many in the opposition to take up arms. Now, the conflict has morphed into an armed insurgency.
"A battle was forced on us, and the result was this bloodshed that we are seeing," Assad said.
Sunday's speech was Assad's first address since the massacre in Syria's central region of Houla that killed more than 100 people, nearly half of them children.
The opposition and the government have exchanged accusations over the massacre, each blaming the other. U.N. investigators have said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime gunmen are responsible for at least some of the killings.
Activists say as many as 13,000 people have died in the violence. One year after the revolt began, the U.N. put the toll at 9,000, but hundreds more have died since.
Syria has long faced international isolation, but the Houla massacre has brought a new urgency to calls to end the crisis. A cease-fire plan brokered by international envoy Kofi Annan is violated by both sides every day. Fears also have risen that the violence could spread and provoke a regional conflagration.