BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad said Tuesday he will not step down, insisting that he still has his people’s support despite a 10-month-old uprising against him.
In his fourth speech since the Syrian revolt began in March, Assad also lashed out at the Arab League and accused the Cairo-based bloc of failing to protect Arab interests.
The League has suspended Syria and sent a team of monitors into country to assess whether the regime is abiding by an Arab-brokered peace plan that Assad agreed to on Dec. 19. The moves were humiliating for Syria, which considers itself a powerhouse of Arab nationalism.
“The Arab League failed for six decades to protect Arab interests,” Assad said in the speech at Damascus University, where he stood at a podium flanked by Syrian flags. “We shouldn’t be surprised it’s failed today.”
Assad repeated claims that a conspiracy is behind the unrest, but he said it is failing.
“We will declare victory soon,” Assad said. “When I leave this post, it will be also based upon the people’s wishes,” he added.
The president has made few public appearances since the anti-government uprising began in March, inspired by the revolutions sweeping the Arab world. The regime’s crackdown on dissent has killed thousands and led to international isolation and sanctions.
Assad also accused hundreds of media outlets of working against Syria to “push us toward … collapse.”
“They failed, but they have not given up,” he said in the speech, which was broadcast live on state television.
Since the start of the uprising, Assad has blamed a foreign conspiracy and media fabrications for the unrest — allegations that the opposition and most observers dismiss. The regime has banned most foreign news outlets and prevented independent reporting.
In recent months, Syria’s conflict has turned increasingly violent as army defectors turn their weapons on the regime and some protesters take up arms to protect themselves.
Syria agreed in December to an Arab League-brokered plan that calls for an end to the military crackdown on protesters, but killings have continued.
About 165 Arab League monitors are in Syria to determine whether the regime is abiding by the plan to stop violence and pull heavy weapons out of the cities.
The U.N. estimated several weeks ago that more than 5,000 people have been killed since March. Since that report, opposition activists say hundreds more have died.
Adnan al-Khudeir, head of the Cairo operations room that the monitors report to, said more observers will head to Syria in the coming days and the delegation should reach 200. He said the mission then will expand its work in Syria to reach the eastern province of Deir el-Zour and predominantly Kurdish areas to the northeast.