Syria crisis: Assad denies role in Houla massacre

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Media captionPresident 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'

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.