Bashar Assad - AFP - 30.3.2011
A TV grab taken from Syrian TV shows Syria's President Bashar Assad addressing the Parliament on March 30, 2011. Photo by AFP PHOTO / HO / SYRIAN TV
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Syrian President Bashar Assad spoke publicly Wednesday for the first time since the outbreak of widespread demonstrations against his regime. Appearing before the Syrian parliament, he said his country was the target of a major conspiracy, pointing the finger at the United States and Israel.

Assad linked what was happening in the country with Syria's relations with the West. He said not all of the demonstrators who have taken to the streets are traitors to the country, but then warned of an American-Israeli plot against the country. "There are people who went out with good intentions but fell victim to those who wanted to harm the institutions of the government," he said. "There is a conspiracy to dismantle Syria. It began with incitement on the Internet and Facebook and also moved from the media to the streets. We've managed to stop the American-Israeli conspiracy."

He said he is not accusing only outside forces of responsibility for the unrest, "but of course there is a connection between things," he said, adding that Syria is being subjected to an assault from the West but taking place in Syria as well. "We will know how to defend [the country] and preserve its unity," he declared.

The Syrian president accused the media, particularly Arabic-language satellite television stations, for repeated propagating lies in the hope that the lies would be believed. He promised future reforms in Syria but failed to give a timeline. He also said changes in the Arab world would inure to the benefit of the Palestinians.

Immediately following Assad's speech, clashes erupted between demonstrators and Syrian security forces in Latakia as well as coastal towns in the north of the country and in Dera'a in the southwest. "The residents of Daraa represent the loyalists on the front lines of the homeland facing the Israeli enemy. Their blood is our blood," Assad told parliament.