Syria's Assad Meets Supporters in Damascus Street

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- In a rare appearance, Syrian President Bashar Assad greeted thousands of supporters in the capital city of Damascus Wednesday, less than a day after his first televised address since June.

Assad's wife and two children joined him in the surprise visit where he told supporters he belongs "to this street."

"We will make this phase the end for them (foreign conspirators) and their plans," he said. "We are going to win without any doubt."

In a televised address to his nation Tuesday, Assad pledged to strike "terrorists" with an iron fist and condemned Arab League attempts to stop violence in his country.

The United Nations said Assad has stepped up killing pro-democracy demonstrators since U.N. monitors arrived.

One Arab League monitor from Algeria reportedly quit because being there gave the regime "a greater chance to continue its killing," he said.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice said an average of 40 people are being killed each day - more than before the monitors arrived.

"That is a clear indication that the government of Syria, rather than using the opportunity of its commitment to the Arab League to end the violence and fulfill all of its commitments under the protocol, is instead stepping up the violence," Rice said 

Rice noted the rise in aggression came "despite the presence of monitors, and carrying out further acts of brutality against its population, even often in the presences of those monitors."

In his televised speech, Assad offered a referendum on the constitution, which designated Assad's Ba'ath party as the "leader of the state and society." But he didn't indicate that he'd be stepping down.

"I am not someone who abandons responsibility," Assad said.
 
Meanwhile, despite his rhetoric, Israel is preparing for the possibility of Assad's downfall.

Israeli army Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz told government ministers on Tuesday that Israel is preparing to take in Syrian refugees if Assad's regime falls.  

That decision is based on Israel's assessment that Assad can't hold onto power much longer. 

If Assad falls, it's likely that members of his minority Alawite religious sect - around 10 percent of the population -- would be forced to flee the country and could head for Israel's border on the Golan Heights.

Last year, hundreds of Syrians stormed the border and scores actually broke through into Israel during pro-Palestinian protests. The incident took the Jewish state by surprise and showed just how vulnerable that border is.

Since then, Israel has been beefing up security along the Golan Heights, which has been a relatively quiet border for decades.

The international community says the Golan Heights are occupied, but Israel considers the strategic plateau part of its biblical inheritance.

Jerusalem Post, AP, Reuters contributed to this report.

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Julie Stahl

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