Bashar al-Assad to stay but offers new dialogue..the Russians arrive
SYRIAN President Bashar Assad last night outlined a new peace initiative that includes a national reconciliation conference and a fresh government and constitution but demanded regional and Western countries stop funding and arming rebels first.
Assad ignored international demands for him to step down and said he was ready to hold a dialogue but only with those “who have not betrayed Syria”.
Syrian opposition forces, including rebels on the ground, are likely to reject the proposal. They have repeatedly said they will accept nothing less than the President’s departure, dismissing any kind of settlement that leaves him in the picture.
“We are 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,” Assad said in his first public address since June.
The address came as Russian landing ships carrying hundreds of marines and military vehicles gathered in the eastern Mediterranean in a show of force said by one Russian diplomat to be aimed at deterring Western intervention in Syria’s civil war.
Assad stressed the presence of religious extremists and jihadi elements among those fighting in Syria, calling them “terrorists who carry the ideology of al-Qa’ida” and “servants who know nothing but the language of slaughter”.
Assad spoke to the nation before a packed audience at the Opera House in central Damascus, which frequently erupted into cheers and applause and mobbed him at the end of the address.
As in previous speeches, Assad said his forces were fighting groups of “murderous criminals” and jihadi elements and denied that there was an uprising against his family’s decades-long rule.
He struck a defiant tone, saying Syria would not be dictated to by anyone but urged Syrians to unite to save the country. “The first part of a political solution would require regional powers to stop funding and arming (the rebels), an end to terrorism and controlling the borders,” he said.
He said this would then be followed by dialogue and a national reconciliation conference and the formation of a wide representative government which would then oversee new elections, a new constitution and general amnesty. However, Assad made clear his offer to hold a dialogue is not open to those whom he considers extremists or carrying out a foreign agenda.
The five Russian landing ships, accompanied by combat vessels from the Black Sea and Baltic fleets, are converging on the Syrian port of Tartus, where Russia maintains a military base regarded as an evacuation route for its nationals in Syria. It is the largest Russian force in the area for 40 years.
A Russian diplomatic source said that as well as protecting the country’s interests in Syria, the presence of at least 300 marines was intended to discourage western countries from putting special forces on the ground in the uprising against Assad.
Officially the Russian navy said the ships were preparing for an exercise to “improve the management, maintenance and testing of the interaction of naval forces”. The source said that “Russia should be prepared for any developments, as it believes the situation in Syria might reach its peak before Easter”.
Russia has maintained the base at Tartus, in the heartland of Assad’s Alawite sect, since 1971. It is the winter hub of the Black Sea fleet. Some observers believe the marines may be ready to set up a sterile zone around the port to protect its facilities and rescue some of the 30,000 Russian nationals believed to be in Syria.
One Israeli source said: “If necessary, I can envisage a Russian ground force stepping in to defend the Alawite corridor stretched between the Lebanese border in the south and the Turkish border in the north.”
most important part of this article is that the russians have arrived..and they will look to protect the alawite section of syria that assad may fall back to..