Syrian President: 'We Are Facing A War From Abroad'

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed his country and the newly-elected People's Assembly on Sunday, decrying what he called the "terrorists" and "conspiracy" against Syria.

(CNN) -- Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addressed his country and the newly-elected People's Assembly on Sunday, decrying what he called the "terrorists" and "conspiracy" against Syria.

"At this time, we are facing a war from abroad," al-Assad said in his first public speech since January. "Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside."

His remarks stand in stark contrast to what the opposition and many world leaders have said for more than a year -- that al-Assad's forces, not external "terrorists," are behind a sustained slaughter stemming from the regime's crackdown on dissidents.

As the president spoke, heavy shelling rained on the anti-government bastion of Homs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. Simultaneously, at least five people were killed in Homs, Aleppo and Hama, the group said.

Opposition activists also reported seeing a large military convoy of about 45 trucks carrying tanks, armored personnel carriers and soldiers heading toward Deir Ezzor during al-Assad's speech.

Al-Assad insisted "the battle is forced upon us," but promised amnesty for those who stop fighting immediately.

"I encourage all of those who are hesitant to drop their weapons at once, and the government will not seek revenge now or later," he said in his 70-minute speech. "We forgave others who stood against us in the past."

The president also touted what he called political reforms and denounced those he said were conspiring against Syria.

"Standing up against the conspiracy is not easy, but we will overcome the obstacles," al-Assad said. "We have duties toward our people. Adopting reform and reinforcing its principles is not an easy mission."

The president's address came a day after U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan said Syria is "at a turning point" and that "the specter of all-out civil war, with a worry sectarian dimension, grows by the day."

As Annan's U.N.-backed peace plan continued to founder in Syria, Arab leaders signaled the need for more robust measures to end the violence there.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor Al Thani said Annan's peace initiative should be placed under Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, Qatar's news agency reported. Such a move would allow the U.N. Security Council to take action that could include the use of military force.

He spoke Saturday before Arab League foreign ministers in Doha, Qatar, more than a week after a massacre in the town of Houla sparked global outrage.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil el-Araby said "more audacious steps are needed" in Syria.

"We should have a timeline for the peace plan -- this is a must," el-Araby said. "The international community needs to take immediate action after the massacre in Houla and take all necessary measures in order to protect the Syrian civilians."

The crisis in Syria began nearly 15 months ago, when a tough government crackdown on protesters spiraled out of control and spawned a national anti-government uprising. The United Nations for months has said more than 9,000 people have died in Syria. But death counts from opposition groups range from more than 12,000 to more than 14,000. Tens of thousands have been displaced.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 33 civilians and 61 government forces were killed across Syria on Saturday, and two rebel soldiers died.

CNN cannot independently confirm reports of casualties or violence from Syria because the government limits access by foreign journalists.

Over the border in the Lebanese city of Tripoli, fighting between pro- and anti-Syrian regime gunmen on Saturday left 12 dead and approximately 50 injured, according to the state-run National News Agency.

The clashes continued early Sunday morning, killing at least one person, NNA said. But hours later, residents said the situation in Tripoli was quiet.

The sectarian violence in Tripoli mirrors the tensions in Syria between Sunnis, who make up the majority of the Syrian opposition, and Alawites, who are dominant in al-Assad's government.

Annan made reference Saturday to such flare-ups in neighboring countries, after many Syrian civilians have fled to escape violence.

He said he recently urged al-Assad "to radically change his military posture," saying the government has the prime responsibility to halt the violence.

Annan said he plans to brief the U.N. General Assembly and U.N. Security Council about the crisis on Thursday.