President Bashar al-Assad has said Syria is engaged in a "real war" with outside forces and defended political reforms implemented by his government in an address to the parliament in Damascus.
Speaking on Sunday for the first time since last month’s parliamentary elections, Assad said that he would not be lenient on those he blamed for violence in the country.
"We have to fight terrorism for the country to heal," Assad said. "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. He blamed the crisis on outside forces and said the country was passing through its most critical stage since the end of colonialism.
"The masks have fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious," Assad said, adding that the elections had been the perfect response "to the criminal killers and those who finance them".
Assad admitted the country’s unrest had taken a “bloody toll” and exhausted assets, but said outside forces were responsible.
"Terrorism has undermined us all," he said. "It is a real war waged from outside and dealing with a war is different to dealing with the grievances of Syrian citizens."
He added that there would be "no dialogue" with opposition factions "seeking foreign intervention".
In the speech, Assad blamed terrorists for the recent massacre in the Syrian town of Houla, which opposition activists said was committed by pro-government forces.
At least 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were slaughtered in killings that began on May 25 and continued the next day, triggering international outrage.
"What happened in Houla and elsewhere [in Syria] are brutal massacres which even monsters would not have carried out," Assad said.
Assad said Syria had implemented clear steps towards introducing political reforms in the country and held parliamentary elections on time, despite violence in the country.
"Our country will recover and our citizens will enjoy peace, stability and sovereignty," he said.
He said the staging of the ballot had been a “clear message to those who want Syria to sink in the blood of its citizens”.
"The political process is moving forward, yet terrorism is not going down," Assad said. "Terrorists are not interested in dialogue or reform."
Commenting on the speech, Samir Taki, a former member of the parliament and one-time advisor to Assad, said: "I was surprised by how powerful he was in denying reality. I was surprised by how much he is disconnected."
"He is very much interested in keeping the facade of the regime, of giving the impression that the state is above and beyond auditing and any kind of change.
"His message was very clear: 'I am beyond any question, that everything happening is practically a conspiracy, and there is no way that I could mention that someday I might leave'."
Assad's speech comes a day after Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, said that the country was slipping into all-out war.
“The spectre of an all-out war, with an alarming sectarian dimension, grows by the day," Annan, told an Arab League meeting in Qatar.
On Saturday, violence in Syria killed 89 people, including 57 soldiers, the largest number of casualties the military has suffered in a single day since an uprising began in March 2011, a watchdog said.
The casualties also included 29 civilians and three army defectors killed in various parts of the country in shelling by security forces or in clashes or gunfire, said the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
As Arab leaders called for UN action in Syria, France, which spearheaded an air assault against former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's forces last year, said it had not ruled out the possibility of military intervention in the country.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French foreign minister, said on Sunday that France had "not excluded military intervention" in Syria, but would only take action under a UN mandate.