In his first address to the nation in two months, Syrian President Bashar Assad accused a "minute" number of "terrorists" backed by "conspirators at home and abroad" of exploiting legitimate demands for reform to serve their longstanding plots to control Syria because of its geo-strategic importance.
While hinting at possible reforms, Assad insisted that this depended on overcoming "obstacles" – the outcome of "external and internal conspiracies" – which could take months if not years. At the beginning of the disturbances, he said he had counted 64,000 "common law offenders" on the streets, equal to five army brigades. Some had turned themselves in. Many were in jail. He also blamed "fundamentalists" – external and internal – who had again raised their heads after many years and were obstructing reform
debkafile: Condemned worldwide for the savage crackdown of protest he has ordered since it erupted in March, Assad gave not the slightest hint that he intended dismissing his brother Gen. Maher Assad for leading soldiers shooting protesters – much less stepping aside himself. Indeed he spoke in the pained tone of a wronged and misunderstood leader: "We have gone through difficult times and many innocent people paid a painful price," he said and called on the thousands of Syrians who fled their homes [more than 10,000 to Turkey and many more to the hills] to return.
(At the same time, Syrian soldiers blocked roads to the Turkish frontier after burning the Syrian villages which had been giving food to people in flight from their homes.)
The audience of regime dignitaries did not greet him with its usual enthusiasm. They clapped politely only when he touched on reforms and the need for national dialogue – such as when he acknowledged that many ordinary people had legitimate needs and it was the government's duty to serve them. There was no response when he accused "terrorists" of being paid by foreign forces to stage riots and spread videos across the world, or when he said, "Gunmen in Jisr al-Shoghour had sophisticated weapons and communications" and Syrian security had caught them" driving 4x4s with machine guns."
Assad's cure for all Syria's ills was "national dialogue" with all sections of society to sound out the real needs of the people. A differentiation must be made between protesters and terrorists. But this process must take place in full respect of national institutions, said Assad. Recovery would take time, he said because the conspiracies from aboard had weakened the nation's immunity. But Syria must deal with its own troubles.