It was a keenly awaited speech, coming at crucial time for Syria. As supporters rallied at Damascus university, President Bashar-al-Assad addressed the nation.
He said his government would cooperate fully with the United Nations probe into the murder of Lebanon’s former leader Rafik al-Hariri. But he added he would not accept any measure that harmed national security. Assad announced that the German judge leading the UN inquiry, Detlev Mehlis, had turned down an invitation to come to Damascus. The overall tone was defiant – there were repeated references to “international forces trying to destabilise Syria.” Assad did not explicitly mention Washington, but it was clear who his comments were aimed at. He urged Syrians to unite in the face of what he termed external threats and affirmed that his country would overcome the challenges facing it. Damascus recently announced its own probe into Syrian officials implicated in the Hariri assassination by the Mehlis report. It has also banned those allegedly involved from leaving the country.