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Defiant Assad Vows to Retake ‘Every Inch’ of Syria From His Foes

June 7, 2016

Syria’s president promised to retake “every inch” of the country from his foes in a defiant speech on Tuesday that dimmed hope for a revival of talks to end the war, now in its sixth year.

The speech by the president, Bashar al-Assad, was his first major address since talks in Geneva mediated by the United Nations broke down in April, and he offered no hint of willingness to compromise.

Mr. Assad described those talks as a failed and “booby-trapped” effort by opponents who have been seeking to depose him since the war first started in 2011 as an uprising against his rule.

“When they failed to achieve what they wanted, their response was an open declaration of supporting terrorism,” Mr. Assad said in the speech in Parliament, as reported by the state news agency and broadcast on national television.

Mr. Assad’s defiance reflected a confidence that analysts said had been strengthened by his country’s most important ally, Russia, which plunged into the war nine months ago and has been assisting Syrian forces in bombing areas held by an array of insurgent groups.

Russian airstrikes helped the Syrian Army retake the ancient city of Palmyra from the Islamic State in March. The Russians have also been helping Assad loyalists elsewhere, including against insurgents in and around the city of Aleppo and other parts of northern Syria. Some of these insurgent groups are supported by the United States.

“Just like we liberated Palmyra and many other areas before it, we are going to liberate each and every inch of Syria from their hands because we have no other choice but to win,” Mr. Assad said in the speech.

Political analysts said Mr. Assad’s remarks are likely to make any talks with his opponents more problematic, even though both Russia and the United States have called for a resumption of diplomacy through their leadership of the International Syria Support Group, a 17-nation effort to end the war.

“It’s pretty clear Assad’s defiance and rigidity at the negotiating table continues to increase after the Russian intervention,” said Andrew J. Tabler, a Syrian expert at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “This doesn’t bode well for the political negotiations in Geneva to find a political settlement.”

Mr. Assad targeted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey with particularly harsh comments, accusing him of helping insurgents in Aleppo, once Syria’s most important commercial center, 40 miles south of Turkey’s border.

“Aleppo will be the grave where all the dreams and hopes of that butcher will be buried,” Mr. Assad said, referring to Mr. Erdogan.

Mr. Assad spoke as the Syrian authorities imposed new obstacles on international efforts to transport emergency aid to civilians trapped in rebel-held areas, ignoring repeated warnings, including a June 1 deadline imposed last month by the International Syria Support Group.

United Nations officials in Geneva said government approval for a delayed food convoy to Daraya, a suburb of Damascus, was withheld.

The food convoy had been scheduled to leave for Daraya on Friday but the government had given only “partial approval” that was not sufficient for the convoy to proceed, Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations agency coordinating humanitarian affairs, told reporters in Geneva.

It was unclear whether partial approval limited the size of the convoy or the content of the aid. Either way, Mr. Laerke said, “that is not good enough.”

A five-truck convoy with medical supplies was permitted into Daraya on June 1, the first humanitarian relief to reach its 4,000 residents in nearly four years.

That delivery was regarded as a hopeful sign that international aid agencies would have better access to civilians trapped in towns under siege or cut off by conflict from regular assistance, said Jan Egeland, chairman of a task force on humanitarian aid set up by the International Syria Support Group. The delivery of food to Daraya was “a clear test” of prospects for increasing the deliveries of aid this month, he added.

The delays of getting food to Daraya have instead demonstrated how options have been limited by the government’s intransigence.

“The blockage of aid is a political issue,” said Ahmad Fawzi, a United Nations spokesman in Geneva. “We are knocking on every door and asking those with influence to exercise that influence.”

The obstruction of land deliveries has turned a spotlight on United Nations preparations for airdrops to the 19 communities and more than half a million people it has identified as under siege.

The World Food Program, the United Nations food agency, has been conducting high altitude airdrops with Syrian government permission to Deir al-Zour, a town in eastern Syria that is surrounded by the Islamic State.

But other besieged areas are in crowded urban surroundings, which mean airdrops can only be done by helicopter. Mr. Laerke said a written request had been filed with the Syrian authorities on Sunday for permission to deliver aid by air if land access was not possible.

Rick Gladstone reported from New York, and Nick Cumming-Bruce from Geneva.