In his fourth speech since the revolt began in March, Assad repeated claims that a foreign conspiracy and terrorists are behind the unrest — not true reform-seekers.
"Our priority now is to regain security which we basked in for decades, and this can only be achieved by hitting the terrorists with an iron hand," Assad said in the speech at Damascus University, where he stood at a podium flanked by Syrian flags. "We will not be lenient with those who work with outsiders against the country."
Assad also lashed out at the Arab League, saying the Cairo-based bloc failed to protect Arab interests. The League has suspended Syria and sent a team of monitors 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.