Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Syrian president to give speech Sunday

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syrian President Bashar Assad will deliver a speech today in a rare address to the nation, state media said, as rebels fighting to topple his embattled regime pressed ahead with an offensive on the capital.

The official SANA news agency said in a brief statement Saturday that Assad will speak about the latest developments in Syria. The speech would be the first by the leader since June, and comes amid intense fighting between government troops and rebels on the outskirts of Damascus.

Assad has rarely spoken in public since the uprising against him began in March 2011. In each of his previous speeches and interviews, the president has dug in his heels even as Western powers have moved to boost the opposition in Syria's civil war.

In his last public comments, Assad vowed in an interview with Russia Today on Nov. 8 that he would "live and die in Syria."

Fighting has raged for weeks in the neighborhoods and towns around Damascus that have been opposition strongholds since the Syrian revolt began. The uprising started with peaceful protests but morphed into a civil war that has killed more than 60,000 people, according to a recent United Nations recent estimate.

The rebels are trying to push through the government's heavy defenses in Damascus, prompting the regime to unleash a withering assault on the suburbs that has included intense barrages by artillery and warplanes.

Diplomatic efforts to end the Syrian crisis have failed so far to bring an end to the bloodshed, although the international community continues to push for a peaceful settlement.

On Saturday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal told reporters after a meeting with his Egyptian counterpart in Riyadh that there should be an immediate end to the bloodshed in Syria and called for a peaceful political transition.

The president of the U.N. Security Council said Thursday that there are important developments in efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the 21-month conflict in Syria and there could be another U.S.-Russia meeting with international envoy Lakhdar Brahimi this week.

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