The war will continue. This was the main message of the long-awaited speech delivered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday at the Opera House in the capital Damascus, packed with an adoring crowd of government supporters.
Syria is in a "state of war in the full sense of the word", declared Assad, as he vowed to continue the fight against the "fake revolution" led by a "gang of criminals". Assad offered a national dialogue conference, new constitution and, ultimately, fresh parliamentary elections. But there would be no talks of his resignation, and no negotiations with the rebels and the Western-backed opposition.
- Read in detail about Assad's speech and his peace plan proposal
If Assad was supposed to be on his last legs, following recent rebel advances and international pressure, there was little sign of it. This was a defiant performance, delivered with eloquence and force lacking in his previous speeches. Rather than reach out to the opposition, the aim was clearly to rally his (still numerous) supporters and mobilize all forces for the final battle.
The carefully staged event, regularly interrupted by the crowd's chanting, was presenting a commander-in-chief with a firm grip on the situation, rather than an embattled leader looking for a way out. It's difficult to imagine Assad exhuming such confidence if Russia weren't still fully behind the regime in Damascus.
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Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty Images.