(JTA) — Syrian President Bashar Assad blamed recent anti-government protests on "enemies with an Israeli agenda" during an address to the nation.
"Our enemies work every day in an organized and public fashion to hurt Syria," Assad said Wednesday in his first public address since demonstrations began two weeks ago. "Our enemies’ aim was to divide Syria as a country and force an Israeli agenda onto it, and they will continue to try and try again."
In a speech in which Assad asserted that he had not authorized Syrian troops to fire on protesters, Assad blamed Israel for the protests, saying that Israel has incited against Syria for weeks on the Internet and on satellite channels. He also said that protests in the southern Syrian city of Derra were sparked by its proximity to the "Israeli enemy."
At least 60 protesters have been killed by pro-Assad forces, human rights activists have reported.
Assad has promised to introduce several reforms, including lifting the country’s emergency law. The law, which has been in place for 40 years, suspends most constitutional rights.
On Tuesday, Assad’s Cabinet resigned in a move designed to pacify protesters.
Protests began in Syria on March 15 and follow uprisings in several countries in the Middle East, including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen and Bahrain.