Syria's Al-Assad swears in, vows to take back the country
Bashar al-Assad was sworn in on today as Syria's president for a new term, after an election his opponents dismiss as a sham but his supporters say proves that a rebellion to unseat him has failed after three years of war.
After taking the oath of office before a Koran and a copy of the constitution, the president of 14 years delivered a defiant speech, vowing to recover all Syria from Islamist insurgents.
Looking calm and confident, he repeatedly took aim at the West and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab monarchies who have funded and armed the rebels that have taken control of much of the north and east of the country but failed to topple him in Damascus.
"Soon we will see the Arab, regional and Western states that supported terrorism pay a high price," he said in the speech at the presidential palace in Damascus, broadcast on state TV.
The Syria war has been the battleground for a sectarian struggle between groups supported by Sunni Muslim states including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and Assad's government backed by Shi'ite Iran.
Last month it spread dramatically to Iraq, where an al Qaeda offshoot called the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) surged across the border, seized cities, changed its name to the Islamic State and declared its leader ruler of all Muslims.
ISIL has officially been rejected as a terrorist group by the Gulf states that support other Sunni fighters in Syria, but Damascus, Baghdad and Tehran all blame the Gulf kingdoms for supporting the wider Sunni militancy that feeds it.
Since advancing in Iraq, ISIL has also expanded its reach in Syria, using weapons seized from the fleeing Iraqi army to fight against rival rebel factions in Syria.