Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has started a rare televised speech about the uprising against his rule.
With rebels fighting their way closer to the seat of his power, state media said in a statement on Saturday that al-Assad spoke on Sunday about the “latest developments in Syria and the region”.
It was the 47-year-old leader’s first speech in months and his first public comments since he dismissed suggestions that he might go into exile to end the civil war, telling Russian television in November that he would “live and die” in Syria.
Since that interview, rebels have strengthened their hold on swathes of territory across northern Syria, launched an offensive in the central province of Hama and endured weeks of bombardment by the regime forces trying to dislodge them from Damascus’s outer neighbourhoods.
Syria’s political opposition has also won widespread international recognition. But al-Assad has continued to rely on support from Russia, China and Iran to hold firm and has used his air power to blunt rebel gains on the ground.
Al Jazeera’s Nisreen El-Shamayleh, reporting from Amman in neighbouring Jordan, reported that the opposition refuses to accept any kind of solution that does not stipulate the stepping down of Assad.
“Lakhdar Brahimi, the UN envoy to Syria mentioned that he would rely on the Geneva Declaration, which was issued in June,” El-Shamayleh said.”This declaration talks extensively about amendments in the constitution, forming the unity government [and] holding presidential and parliamentary elections, but it stops short of stipulating that Assad steps down.”
She added that this was a “key demand by the opposition”.
With the conflict showing no sign of abating, Syria’s deputy foreign minister visited Iran on Saturday to ensure the support of al-Assad’s main ally in the region.
Iran’s Fars news agency said Faisal al-Makdad would meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials.
Despite the estimated death toll of 60,000 announced by the United Nations earlier this week – a figure sharply higher than that given by activists – the West has shown little appetite for intervening against al-Assad in the way that NATO forces supported rebels who overthrew Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
But NATO is sending US and European Patriot surface-to-air missile batteries to the Turkish-Syrian border.
The United States military said US troops and equipment had begun arriving in Turkey on Friday for the deployment.
Germany and the Netherlands are also sending Patriot batteries, which will take weeks to deploy fully.
Turkey and NATO say the missiles are a safeguard to protect southern Turkey from possible Syrian missile strikes.
Syria and allies Russia and Iran say the deployments could spark an eventual military action by the Western alliance.
Syria’s war has proved the longest and bloodiest of the conflicts that arose out of popular uprisings in Arab countries over the past two years and led to the downfall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen.
The war pits rebels mainly drawn from the Sunni Muslim majority against al-Assad, a member of the Shia-derived Alawite minority sect, whose family has ruled Syria since his father seized power in a coup in 1970.
Al-Assad’s last formal speech was delivered to parliament seven months ago, in early June. “If we work together,” he said, “I confirm that the end to this situation is near.”