Assad vows to "liberate" entire country from "terrorists"

Syria's president Bashar Assad gestures while parliament members clap in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA, June 7, 2016.

REUTERS

DAMASCUS -- As fighting raged in the six-year war that has left more than a quarter of a million people dead, Syria's embattled President Bashar Assad vowed Tuesday to "liberate" the areas of his country still out of his control -- and again made it clear he was not interested in the negotiated peace options currently on offer from the U.S.-backed opposition.

"Bloodshed in Syria will not end if we don't eradicate terrorism from its roots wherever it exists and no matter what masks it wears," Assad said, speaking at a session of the new People's Assembly, which was elected in April.

"As we liberate Palmyra, and many territories before, we will liberate every span of the country from their hands. There is no choice but victory," he added, to the applause of the lawmakers.

Assad arrived at a hall and was met by the cheering guests. "With our blood and soul we sacrifice ourselves to you Bashar," they chanted.

For security reasons, the location of the ceremony was not disclosed until last minute. Helicopters hovered in the sky of the capital since early morning.

"Our determination to eliminate terrorism does not mean that we don't believe in the political process," Assad said, looking relaxed and wearing a dark blue suit and tie.

But his stance on that political process -- which has been hung up for years over the U.S.-backed opposition's insistence that it include his departure from power -- was also clear.

"Real talks have not yet started and we have got no answers to our numerous questions," the Syrian leader said. "We will not allow them to take Syria to the path they wish to take. We have proposed a paper of principles that constitutes the basis for the success of the talks but we found no one to talk to in Geneva. Any peace talks that do not end with the elimination of terror is meaningless."

Since a peaceful 2011 uprising against his rule escalated into a full-blown and complicated civil war, Assad has consistently referred to all opposition forces as "terrorists," drawing no distinction between Islamic extremist groups including ISIS and al Qaeda's Nusra Front, and the more moderate factions backed by the U.S. and European nations.

Syrian regime forces -- with essential support from Russian airstrikes and Iranian-backed Hezbollah fighters -- inched closer Monday to a key stop on a vital ISIS supply route, as twin offensives bore down on the extremists' northern stronghold of Raqqa.

In the battleground town of Tabqa, ISIS fighters were caught between Russian-backed regime forces pushing from the southwest and U.S.-supported Kurdish and Arab fighters from the north.

ISIS is also under attack in Aleppo province. Syrian forces crossed the Euphrates River near the border with Turkey and pushed west toward extremist-held Manbij.

The international peace talks to end the war, which has also displaced millions of Syrians, have stalled, and a cease-fire which briefly brought hope that the talks could achieve progress is in tatters.

Assad spoke at length Tuesday about the support his government has received from the Russians, Iranians, Chinese and Hezbollah, praising them for backing right over wrong in the bloody conflict.

Filed by CBS News' George Baghdadi in Damascus.