One day after a cease-fire between Hezbollah fighters and Israel, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad says the United States plan for a new Middle East has failed because of the achievements of Hezbollah against Israel.
President Bashar al-Assad told a conference of journalists in the Syrian capital, Damascus, that the Middle East vision the United States has aspired to has become an illusion. Instead, he said, the region has changed because of the achievements of the resistance, a reference to the Hezbollah militant group, which is supported by Syria and Iran.
He says this new Middle East is the one that Syria has repeatedly said is the only hope for the Arabs to attain a place in the world both politically and economically.
President Assad said the fighting in Lebanon had been planned by Israel for some time, and the kidnapping of the two Israeli soldiers was just a pretext to go to war.
He also lashed out at Arab regimes, without naming them, that criticized Hezbollah for kidnapping the two Israeli soldiers and starting the war. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan - all allies of the United States - criticized Hezbollah's actions at the start of the conflict.
Mr. Assad's nearly hour-long address was interrupted frequently by applause, and at one point, several people in the audience, who said they were Lebanese thanked him for Syria's support.
The Syrian leader also accused certain groups in Lebanon of collaborating with Israel, an apparent reference to the anti-Syrian majority bloc in Lebanon's parliament.
The Syrian president declared the peace process dead, and said it has been a failure since its inception. He added that he does not expect peace soon in the Middle East, because Israel does not want it. He said in the absence of peace negotiations, resistance against Israel is a legitimate option.
Mr. Assad was also critical of U.S. policies in the region, saying President Bush has adopted the principle of preemptive war. On Monday, Mr. Bush blamed Hezbollah and its state sponsors, Iran and Syria, for starting the month-long conflict that killed more than 1,000 Lebanese and more than 140 Israelis. Mr. Bush also said that Hezbollah was the loser in the conflict because its fighters had been moved away from the border with Israel.
Following Mr. Assad's speech, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he was canceling a visit to Syria. Steinmeier said Mr. Assad's speech was "a negative contribution, which did no justice to the current challenges and opportunities in the Middle East." Steinmeier had been due to arrive in Syria on Tuesday and hold talks with the Syrian leader as part of a tour of the Middle East to foster a lasting peace in Lebanon.