Under pressure from all sides, Bashar al-Assad spoke publicly for the first time since January today, and his message wasn't one of peace. The Syrian president warned that his country is facing a "real war," and said he will not be lenient with the terrorists he says are behind the country's uprising. "We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal," Assad told parliament. "We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism."
Assad's remarks defied mounting international condemnation of his regime's crackdown on the opposition, and are the first since the Houla massacre. He blamed the crisis on outside forces and said the country is passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism. He offered a similar message in his previous speeches, when he blamed terrorists and foreign extremists for the uprising and vowed to protect national security. "A battle was forced on us, and the result was this bloodshed that we are seeing," Assad said.