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Syrian President Assad hardens position in address to parliament

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DAMASCUS: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hardened his position on UN-sponsored peace talks in his first address to the newly elected parliament broadcast on state television on Tuesday.

“We will not agree to any topic outside the statement of principles we presented to the UN. We just won’t accept it,” Assad told lawmakers.

The document submitted by the government delegation stresses that Syria will be ruled by a “unity government” — not a “transitional governing body” without Assad as called for by the opposition.

Assad said he had received no response from the UN regarding this paper and that in the government’s eyes, “the negotiations have not actually started”.

He was addressing lawmakers for the first time since an April general election in government-controlled areas that was dismissed internationally as a sham.

“The Syrian people surprised the world yet again with an unprecedented voter turnout… and an unprecedented number of candidates,” Assad said.

Syria’s conflict began in 2011 with protests calling for Assad to step down, and several rounds of UN-backed peace talks have failed to bring an end to what has become a complex civil war.

In February, the United States and regime ally Russia brokered a ceasefire between government forces and non-militant rebels in an effort to bolster the peace negotiations.

The ceasefire has allowed Syria’s armed forces to focus on key fronts, Assad said, including the historic city of Palmyra — where regime forces backed by Russia defeated the Islamic State group in March.

“As we liberated Palmyra, so shall we liberate every inch of Syria… we have no choice but victory,” he said to applause from lawmakers.

It was unclear if the speech was broadcast live or pre-recorded earlier this week.

Assad’s last address to parliament was in June 2012, just after general elections in May of that year.

 

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