DAMASCUS/VREDEPEEL  - A defiant speech by President Bashar al-Assad calling for peace in Syria on his terms has met rejection by the opposition and internationally, with only his ally Iran on Monday backing his stance.

Assad’s plan was “detached from reality,” a US State Department spokeswoman said, while Britain said Assad’s address was “empty” and France said it was an attempt “to justify the repression of the Syrian people”.

The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Europe’s position remained that Assad should step down to permit a political transition.

And Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi told CNN he would endorse any decision by the Syrian people to put Assad on trial before the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

The opposition Syrian National Coalition noted that Assad had ruled out any dialogue with the rebels, making negotiations impossible. Only Iran, which is supplying money, military advisors and, according to the United States, weapons to Assad’s regime threw its weight behind its ally.

“The Islamic republic... supports President Bashar al-Assad’s initiative for a comprehensive solution to the country’s crisis,” which rejects “foreign interference,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in a statement on his ministry website.

Assad, in his first speech in seven months, on Sunday outlined his vision for a way out of the 21-month conflict that has shattered his country, killed more than 60,000 people according to the UN, and created a well of instability exploited by jihadists and fuelled by regional rivalries.

Any resolution of the conflict had to be purely Syrian, Assad said - though he called those Syrians ranged against him “not a loyal opposition but a gang of killers.” He stated that most of the anti-regime fighters were foreigners, and said: “The one thing that is sure (is) that those who we face today are those who carry the Al-Qaeda ideology.”

But while his plan calling for an end to violence, dialogue with opposition elements he deemed acceptable, and a vow to stand fast against those he branded “terrorists” and their foreign backers drew wild applause from his Damascus audience, it offered little realistic prospect of ending what has become a civil war. “His initiative is detached from reality” and was another attempt “to cling to power,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the speech was full of “empty promises” and would “fool no one”. “Bashar al-Assad’s remarks show once again his denial of reality in which he has shut himself away to justify the repression of the Syrian people,” French foreign ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said on Monday.

UN leader Ban Ki-moon said that Bashar al-Assad’s speech setting out his terms for peace would not help end “the terrible suffering” of the Syrian people. “The secretary general was disappointed that the speech by President Bashar al-Assad on January 6 does not contribute to a solution that could end the terrible suffering of the Syrian people,” said UN spokesman Martin Nesirky. Ban and UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi believe there has to be a “political transition that includes the establishment of a transitional government and the holding of free and fair elections under the auspices of the United Nations,” Nesirky added.

On the day of Assad’s speech, another 91 people were killed across Syria, the British-based watchdog the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Combat continued unabated on Monday outside Damascus, where troops are bombarding rebel positions. Five people, including four members of the same family, were killed in shelling on Kfar Batna to the east, the Observatory said.

In the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, one soldier who had defected was killed in fighting near a local political security branch office. The United States and Europe, which have declared the National Coalition the “legitimate representative” of the Syrian people, are pressing Assad to leave power as the first step to any process to restore peace in Syria.

But with Russia and China blocking any UN-approved international action against Assad’s regime, the Syrian war is slipping ever deeper into bloodshed with fears of lasting sectarian fractures. Although the toll has climbed sharply in the past six months, and the rebels have grabbed swathes of rural territory, the war has become a grinding impasse punctuated by shelling, regime air strikes and by car bombs set off by an increasingly radicalised insurgency. Efforts by the joint UN-Arab League peace envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, have made no more headway than those of his predecessor, Kofi Annan, who resigned in frustration.

Pope Benedict XVI on Monday renewed his call for a ceasefire and dialogue to halt the “endless slaughter” and civilian suffering in Syria.

The conflict, he said, “will know no victors but only vanquished if it continues, leaving behind it nothing but a field of ruins.”  The Netherlands’ Patriot missile batteries on Monday began their journey to fellow Nato member Turkey where they are to defend civilians near the border from a possible Syrian attack. Around 160 vehicles carrying the missiles and equipment for 300 Dutch support troops left the Bestkazerne military base in Vredepeel in the southeastern Netherlands on Monday morning, an AFP correspondent reported.

The convoy is headed for Eemshaven port in the north of the country from where it will sail for Turkey and is expected to arrive around January 22.

The US and Germany are also sending Patriot surface-to-air missiles to southeastern Turkey following a request from Ankara because of the threat of the deadly 21-month civil war in Syria spilling over.