DAMASCUS, Syria, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Standing defiantly against pressure to step down, Syrian President Bashar Assad called on the Syrian public to fight rebels he deemed "enemies of God."
In his first public speech before the nation in months, broadcast live on state television, Assad said "this is a conflict of those who wanted to take revenge against the people, to fragment Syria, Those are the enemies of the people and the enemies of God. And the enemies of God will go to hell," CNN quoted him as saying. "We are in a state of real war, in every aspect of the words. And when we're in a state of war, all of our politics has to be concentrated on winning this war."
He denied his country's armed forces are behind attacks the United Nations estimates have claimed about 60,000 lives since the uprising against the regime began in March 2011.
"Many have fallen on the trap that the conflict is between the government and the opposition. ... The conflict, ladies and gentlemen, is between the homeland and its enemies -- between the people and the killers and the criminals," he said in Sunday's speech.
"We meet today and suffering is overwhelming Syrian land," the Turkish Hurriyet Daily News quoted him as saying. "There is no place for joy while security and stability are absent on the streets of our country. The nation is for all, and we all must protect it."
The Wall Street Journal reported Assad, wearing a black suit and gray tie, appeared calm and confident as he delivered his hourlong speech to a cheering audience of several hundred people at the Damascus Opera House.
"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," Assad said. "This war targets Syria, using a handful of Syrians and many foreigners. Thus, this is a war to defend the nation."
The embattled president blamed the insurrection on "jihadis holding the ideology of al-Qaida," the Journal said.
The supporters interrupted him several times to shout, "God, Bashar and Syria is enough." He shook hands with some of them afterward, but as people pressed in on him, body guards shoved them away.
People shouted "Shabeeha forever," using Syrian slang for regime loyalists.
The opposition responded by calling Assad arrogant and out of touch with the fighting taking place.
"The initiative proposed by President Bashar al-Assad [for dialogue] takes us back to point zero," Rima Fleihan, a member of the main National Opposition Coalition, told an Arabic TV station afterward. "There can be no solution that leaves Bashar al-Assad in power."
The New York Times reported Assad was adamant he wouldn't negotiate with the rebels.
"Who should we negotiate with -- terrorists?" Assad said. "We will negotiate with their masters."
Assad said he rejects all dialogue with "puppets made by the West" in attempts to resolve the situation, and said plans to restore peace would require regional powers to stop funding the opposition. He said the army would then halt all military operations but would reserve the right to defend state interests, the BBC reported.
Assad said a conference of national dialogue between "Syrian individuals and political parties" would be created to form a national charter to be put to a referendum that would lead to the establishment of a new government, the BBC said.
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