BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad vowed on Tuesday to fight on in what he called Syria’s war against terrorism, showing no sign of compromise in his first major address since peace talks broke down in April.
Assad said he would win back “every inch” of Syria and said Aleppo would be a graveyard for the hopes and dreams of Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a major sponsor of the insurgents battling to topple him.
“Our war against terrorism is continuing,” Assad said in a speech to parliament broadcast by state TV. “As we liberated Tadmur (Palmyra) and before it many areas, we will liberate every inch of Syria from their hands. Our only option is victory, otherwise Syria will not continue.”
The Syrian army and allied militia, aided by Russian air strikes, recovered control of Palmyra from Islamic State insurgents in March. In addition to the war with Islamic State, Assad is fighting rebels who include groups that have received support from his foreign enemies, Turkey included.
The war has greatly diminished Assad’s control of Syria, with Islamic State, an array of rebel groups, and a powerful Kurdish militia establishing authority over wide parts of the country.
Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and pre-war commercial hub, and the surrounding area at the border with Turkey have comprised a major theater in the war, divided between areas of government and rebel control. Escalating fighting there helped ruin the cessation of hostilities agreement agreed in February.
Assad accused Erdogan of recently sending thousands of militants to Aleppo. Russia, which has been bombing in support of Assad since September, said on Saturday more that 2,000 militants had mobilized in the Aleppo area.
Russia said on Monday its air forces would provide “the most active” support to Syrian government troops so as not to let Aleppo and the surrounding area fall into the hands of fighters it called terrorists.
The United States and Russia brokered the cessation of hostilities as part of an effort to get U.N.-backed peace talks moving earlier this year. The talks broke down in April when the main opposition alliance withdrew over what it described as a worsening situation on the ground.
Assad said there had been no real talks in Geneva.
He thanked Russia, Iran, China and the Lebanese Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah for the support they had provided.
Alluding to suggestions of divisions in the alliance, particularly between Iran and Russia, Assad said people should not listen to reports about “differences, struggles and divisions”. He said the alliance was stronger than ever.
He was speaking at the parliament that convened this week for the first time since it was elected in April. The election was held in government-controlled parts of Syria.
Government supporters said the vote was a sign of support for Assad, while his opponents said it was illegitimate.
Reporting by Tom Perry/Laila Bassam; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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