President Bashar Al Assad speaks at an iftar meal along with political and religious figures in Damascus on Sunday. At the gathering, the president praised the Syrian people for “standing as one with the armed forces to defend Syria and its resources.” Image Credit: AFP

Damascus: Syria’s crisis will only be solved by stamping out “terror”, President Bashar Al Assad said on Sunday, in reference to rebels fighting his regime. In a rare speech on Syrian state television, Al Assad also dismissed the political opposition to his regime as a “failure” that could play no role in solving the country’s brutal war. “No solution can be reached with terror except by striking it with an iron fist,” said Al Assad. “I don’t think that any sane human being would think that terrorism can be dealt with via politics,” he added. “There may be a role for politics in dealing with terrorism pre-emptively,” said Al Assad, adding that as soon as “terrorism” has arisen, it can only be struck out.

In March 2011, a widespread protest movement calling for political change in Syria broke out. In response, the regime unleashed a brutal crackdown against dissent, while systematically labelling dissidents and rebels as “terrorists” and refusing to recognise the existence of a popular revolt. The movement later morphed into an increasingly radical insurgency and more than 100,000 people have since been killed, the UN says. The war has also forced millions to flee their homes, while plunging Syria into an unprecedented economic crisis. In his latest speech, Al Assad also said Syria’s economic woes “are linked to the security situation, and they can only be solved by striking terror”. Al Assad’s speech comes a week after the army, backed by pro-regime paramilitary troops and Lebanon’s Shiite Hezbollah movement, reclaimed a strategic district of the central city of Homs, after a suffocating siege on rebels that lasted more than a year.

“In this kind of fight, we as Syrians either win together or lose together,” he said. Al Assad also said that the army, untrained for guerrilla warfare, “has achieved the impossible”. “There is only one kind of war that is bigger than guerrilla warfare, and that is a people’s war, one that is fought by the army alongside the citizens,” he said, adding that “the hand of God is with those who stand together”. He meanwhile stressed the need to fight on against the rebellion. “It is true that there is a battle being fought in the media and on (the Internet), but the crisis will only be solved on the battlefield,” said Al Assad in his 45-minute address. He also said that any efforts towards a political solution should be combined with continued military operations. “There cannot be any political efforts or political progress if terror is striking everywhere. Therefore terror must be struck in order to get the political process moving on the right track,” Al Assad said. “That does not mean that there cannot be parallel tracks. There is no reason why we shouldn’t strike terror while at the same time working politically,” he added. Al Assad’s comments come amid faltering efforts to push forward a US-Russian proposal for peace talks dubbed Geneva 2, which would see regime representatives and the opposition gathering for negotiations. In his speech, Al Assad lashed out against the main opposition National Coalition, describing it as a “failure”. “This opposition is not reliable ... and it has no role in solving the crisis,” Al Assad said. He accused the Coalition of “being on the payroll of more than one Gulf country”, and of “blaming the (Syrian) state for terrorism rather than blaming the armed men”, or rebels. In an Army Day message carried by state media on August 1, Al Assad said he was “sure of victory” in the bloody conflict. “If we in Syria were not sure of victory, we would not have had the will to resist nor been able to persevere in the face of more than two years of aggression,” Al Assad said at the time.