CAIRO, EGYPT - Syria's president, in a speech broadcast live on state television Sunday, acknowledged that the military has given up some regions of the country for strategic reasons as it battles insurgents, and offered justification as to why.
"We must define the important regions that the armed forces hold onto so it doesn't allow the collapse of the rest of the areas," Assad said. "We are not collapsing . . . Defeat does not exist in the dictionary of the Syrian Arab army."
A crowd applauded as Assad described the conflict in Syria as an “existential” battle against terrorists and outside armies supported by powerful regional and international states. He insisted Syria has not and will not give in to outside pressure.
He said countries that stand up for their rights ultimately go on to win their battles, as Iran eventually did in its nuclear negotiations with the world community.
The speech was repeatedly scrambled by hackers, making parts of it barely intelligible. It was the first time the Syrian president has addressed a large crowd in more than a year.
Assad claimed, what he called, “terrorist states” were increasing their aid to various proxies in order to create desperation among the Syrian people. He said his government favored a “political solution” to the four-year-old conflict, but insisted it would not capitulate.
He says he supports a negotiated solution to the conflict.
Assad said his forces have pulled back from certain regions of the country, in order to defend those areas with the most military and economic significance. But he stressed, “the Syrian people must remain united, despite philosophical, political and sectarian differences.”
The Syrian president also said electricity cuts, fuel shortages and water outages are part of the “economic war” being waged on his government.
Assad concluded by thanking soldiers and civil servants “fighting in the shadows,” and “paying a heavy price.” He also thanked Syria's main allies, Iran, Russia, China and Lebanon's Hezbollah group for supporting his government in its time of need.
But the ranks of the army are dwindling through deaths, defections and increased draft dodging, something the president acknowledged. "There is a lack of human resources" in the army the Syrian leader said in his Sunday morning address in the capital, Damascus.
U.N. estimates say fighting in Syria has killed at least 220,000 people and displaced more then 11 million others - many internally - since the conflict began in March 2011 with anti-government protests before growing into a civil war after a government crackdown. The situation in Syria is the largest humanitarian crisis in the world.
Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.