Assad "peace plan" greeted with scorn by foes

Sun Jan 6, 2013 6:37pm EST
 
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By Peter Graff and Erika Solomon

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected peace talks with his enemies on Sunday in a defiant speech that his opponents described as a renewed declaration of war.

Although the speech was billed as the unveiling of a new peace plan, Assad offered no concessions and even appeared to harden many of his positions. He rallied Syrians for "a war to defend the nation" and disparaged the prospect of negotiations.

"We do not reject political dialogue ... but with whom should we hold a dialogue? With extremists who don't believe in any language but killing and terrorism?" Assad asked supporters who packed Damascus Opera House for his first speech since June.

"Should we speak to gangs recruited abroad that follow the orders of foreigners? Should we have official dialogue with a puppet made by the West, which has scripted its lines?"

It was his first public speech to an audience in six months. Since the last, rebels have reached the capital's outskirts.

George Sabra, vice president of the opposition National Coalition, told Reuters the peace plan Assad put at the heart of his speech did "not even deserve to be called an initiative":

"We should see it rather as a declaration that he will continue his war against the Syrian people," he said.

"The appropriate response is to continue to resist this unacceptable regime and for the Free Syrian Army to continue its work in liberating Syria until every inch of land is free."   Continued...

 
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad (C) waves to his supporters after speaking at the Opera House in Damascus January 6, 2013, in this handout photograph released by Syria's national news agency SANA. A defiant al-Assad presented what he described as a new initiative on Sunday to end the war in Syria but his opponents dismissed it as a ploy to cling to power. REUTERS/Sana