In a speech to the Arab Journalists Association conference, held in Damascus, Bashar al-Assad praised Lebanon's Hezbollah for fighting off Israel for nearly five weeks and said that their actions would make Israel think twice before pursuing "terrorist policies" in the region.

"The world will not consider our interests unless we are strong. The resistance, in all its aspects, is the alternative to regain our rights. The world would not move unless Israel is harmed and we become powerful. 

"This resistance is a medal to pin on the chest of every Arab citizen, not only Syria," he said, adding that the Shia fighters had "shattered the myth of an invincible army".

Resistance brings peace

The Syrian leader said peace and resistance were not mutually exclusive.

"Arabs have failed to understand the strategic option for peace.

"The world will not consider our interests unless we are strong... The world would not move unless Israel is harmed and we become powerful"

Bashar al-Assad,
Syrian president

"Peace is a strategic option that does not mean we should abandon the principle of the resistance.

"The more peace seems to become inapplicable, the more necessary it is to look for alternative ways." he said. 

"Resistance is aimed at achieving peace not war."

Al-Assad also took aim at opponents in Beirut.

The government in Lebanon is now headed by an anti-Damascus majority which took office after elections last summer after the withdrawal of Syrian troops following outrage at the assassination of former prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

And the Syrian leader accused the anti-Syrian bloc of wanting to sow discord in the war-torn country by demanding that Hezbollah disarm.

Blaming the US

He also said there would be no peace in the Middle East anytime soon, and blamed the United States.

"Peace would involve Israel returning occupied lands to their  owners and restoring their rights," he said. "Israel is an enemy  founded on the basis of aggression and hegemony."

"[Syria must] understand that Lebanon is taking off, or is at least meant to take off, in a different direction without them"

Tzipi Livni, 
Israeli foreign minister

"The peace process has failed. It has failed since its inception."

"It is evident that after six years of this [US] administration that there is no peace and there will be none in the foreseeable future."

Al-Assad said US aspirations of building a "new Middle East" were an "illusion" that was shattered by Hezbollah's success in fighting Israel.

A key part of George Bush's proposed "new Middle East" was replacing al-Assad's government.

Hands off

Speaking in Jerusalem on Tuesday, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister, said Syria must not intervene in Lebanese affairs or try to use Hezbollah to influence the Beirut government.

Livni, speaking in northern Israel, said after the war against Hezbollah, Syria must "understand that Lebanon is taking off, or is at least meant to take off, in a different direction without them".

She said Damascus would no longer be able "to influence [Lebanon] through such groups as Hezbollah".

Israel and the United States accuse Syria and Iran of supporting and arming Hezbollah, a group on the US State Department's list of terrorist organisations.

"There is international agreement regarding the role Syria played until today and the change it has to make in order to be accepted by the international community and to play a more positive role," Livni said.