Opposition and world leaders dismiss peace plan outlined by Syrian president, saying his speech offered nothing new.
Syrian opposition groups have rejected a new peace initiative by President Bashar al-Assad that includes a national reconciliation conference and a new government and constitution.
Assad was speaking on Sunday in a rare address to the nation, his first since June, demanded that Western countries stop funding and arming rebels and said he is ready to hold a dialogue with those “who have not betrayed Syria”.
He spoke in a hall at the Opera House in central Damascus, and the audience frequently broke out in cheers and applause.
The Syrian opposition, including rebels on the ground, were quick to reject Assad’s proposal.
Louay Safi, a member of the Syrian National Coalition opposition bloc, dismissed the address to the nation as “empty rhetoric”.
“He did not offer to step down, which was a precondition to start any negotiation,” Safi told Al Jazeera.
“He has shown that he is a dictator that we cannot negotiate with. I think he has no desire to relinquish power. He wants to crush the opposition and he hopes he can stay over for the next 40 years like his father did.”
Opposition leaders have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the president’s departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves Assad in the picture.
“There’s not a single opposition leader who can go public and say ‘we will negotiate and compromise with Assad in power’, a senior commander of the Free Syrian Army told Al Jazeera.
Assad said his nation is in a “state of war”.
“We are fighting an external aggression that is more dangerous than any others, because they use us to kill each other,” he said.
Assad stressed the presence of religious extremists and jihadi elements among those fighting in Syria, calling them “terrorists” and “servants who know nothing but the language of slaughter”.
“We have terrorists who follow the ideology of al-Qaeda. We brothers fight against these people. Most of them are not Syrian … We will teach them a lesson,” Assad said.
Assad spoke before a collage of pictures of what appeared to be Syrians who have been killed since March 2011.
The internet was cut in many parts of Damascus before the address, apparently for security reasons.
As in previous speeches, Assad denied that there was a popular uprising against his family’s decades-long rule.
‘Detached from reality’
Assad’s foreign foes were scornful and dismissive of the speech. The US state department said Assad’s speech “is yet another attempt by the regime to cling to power and does nothing to advance the Syrian people’s goal of a political transition”.
“His initiative is detached from reality, undermines the efforts of Joint Special Representative Lakhdar Brahimi, and would only allow the regime to further perpetuate its bloody oppression of the Syrian people,” Victoria Nuland, the state department spokesperson, said.
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Catherine Ashton, EU foreign affairs chief, said Brussels would “look carefully if there is anything new in the speech, but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition”.
Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Antakya, in neighbouring Turkey, said the speech was “a recipe for further stalemate over the issue of Syria, unless the international community decides to do anything about it.
“But it seems the international community is not really in favour of a decisive victory of the opposition, because they’re worried about the potential of the rebels unleashing sectarian revenge killings,” he said.
“At the same time, they don’t think Assad should stay in power by clamping down on the opposition. They’re thinking of different alternatives.”
The 21-month uprising against Assad has become a civil war that the UN says has killed 60,000 people.