Syria crisis: Assad denies role in Houla massacre

President Assad: "Our anger (at the Houla massacre) was indescribable"

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad has denied his government's forces had any role in the Houla massacre.

More than 100 people, many of them children, were killed in the attack overnight between 25 and 26 May, most knifed or shot at close range.

Mr Assad described the killings as an "ugly crime" that even "monsters" would not carry out.

Addressing parliament, he blamed "foreign meddling" for Syria's divisions.

"What happened in Houla and elsewhere (in Syria) are brutal massacres which even monsters would not have carried out," he said in the televised address.

"If we don't feel the pain the pain that squeezes our hearts, as I felt it, for the cruel scenes - especially the children - then we are not human beings," he said.

UN investigators have said most of the dead were summarily executed, and eyewitnesses had said pro-government militias had carried out most of the killings.

The massacre has triggered international condemnation and led to several countries expelling Syrian diplomats in protest.

'Red line'

Analysis

Anybody hoping that President Assad's first public speech since January might open up some lines of advance towards a solution will have been disappointed.

He repeated his regime's long-standing argument - that it is facing not an internal political crisis but an outside plot, using domestic instruments, to destroy the country, because of its resistance to Israel.

This "imposed war" as he called it, had failed through all its cycles - first popular disturbances, then armed action, then terrorist assassinations and bomb attacks, and now, he said, attempts to stir up sectarian strife through such atrocities as the massacre at Houla, which he described as so horrible that even monsters could not have committed it.

To accuse the Syrian army of doing it, he said, was tantamount to accusing every Syrian citizen of being a terrorist.

Mr Assad again blamed "terrorists", supported by foreign powers, for fomenting discord and creating "a project of... dissent" inside the country.

He said Syria was "facing attempts to weaken Syria, breach its sovereignty".

The only way to resolve the crisis, he said, was through political dialogue. But he said he would not negotiate with those who, he said, did not represent the will of the Syrian people.

The international peace envoy Kofi Annan, sent by the United Nations and the Arab League, expressed frustration on Saturday that Mr Assad was not turning his words into actions.

He said the Syrian president "must make bold and visible steps immediately to radically change his military posture and honour his commitment to withdraw heavy weapons and cease all violence".

Violence continued on Saturday in Syria where, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights quoted by Agence France Presse, 89 people, including 57 soldiers were killed.

If confirmed, it would be the largest number of casualties the military has suffered in a single day since the uprising began in March 2011.

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