In his first public address to the Syrian nation since unrest broke out two weeks ago, President Bashar al-Assad blamed “conspirators” for the ongoing violence and vowed that he would defeat the “plot” against his country.

Syria is a target of a big plot from outside - its timing, its format has been speeded up, he said, adding that unsuspecting Syrians were duped into demonstrating in the streets.

If there is something happening it is using the cover of accusing Syria of popular response, he said. If there are reformers we will support them.

The “conspirators,” he claimed, are seeking to reinforce sectarianism to incite hatred and bring down Syria and are pursuing an Israeli agenda.

Assad delivered his speech to parliament – he was often interrupted by applause from the audience.

The plotters are the minority…we didn't know what had happened until the sabotage operations had happened, since then we could see the difference between reform and killing, Assad said, adding that We are for people's demands but we cannot support chaos and destruction.

Assad also said Syria was going through a test of unity.

I belong to the Syrian people, and whoever belongs to the Syrian people will always keep his head high, he said.

I know that the Syrian people have been awaiting this speech since last week, but I was waiting to get the full picture... to avoid giving an emotional address that would put the people at ease but have no real effect, at a time when our enemies are targeting Syria.”

Assad also referred to the southern city of Deraa, which has been the focal point of protests and which has witnessed the large bulk of killings by state security forces.

Deraa is in the heart of every Syrian, Assad said, adding that the city is on the front line of the nation's enemy, Israel.

Assad vowed that the people of Deraa will eliminate whoever is behind the violence.”

In the coming days, Assad is expected to lift the emergency laws which have been in place since 1963, when his father, Hafez, seized power. Under these laws, state security forces enjoyed extraordinary powers in arresting and detaining people.

Assad is also said to be “studying” measures to liberalize laws governing media control and the formation of political parties.

The cabinet resigned yesterday, amidst the appearance of large pro-government crowds on the streets of the capital Damascus. Reuters reported that unions controlled by the ruling Baath Party were ordered to attend the rallies.

A new cabinet is expected to be appointed by Assad by the end of the week.

Aktham Nuaisse, a human rights activist, told Associated Press: Either the president takes immediate, drastic reform measures, or the country descends into one of several ugly scenarios. If he is willing to lead Syria into a real democratic transformation, he will be met halfway by the Syrian people.”

A reporter for Al Jazeera said this was the most important speech of Assad’s career.

People want to see an end to corruption. But on the street, people are also saying 'We want to see reforms, but we want to see Bashar al-Assad stay in power', he said.