Assad denies "monstrous" Houla massacre

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An image grab taken from Syrian state TV shows Syrian President Bashar Assad addressing the parliament in Damascus on 3 June 2012. (Photo: AFP – Syrian TV)

Published Sunday, June 3, 2012

Syrian President Bashar Assad on Sunday denounced those who committed the Houla massacre as "monsters" and claimed his government faced a foreign plot to destroy the country, in a rare televised speech delivered in parliament.

At least 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were slaughtered in the Houla killings, in central Syria, in killings that started on May 25 and spilled into the next day, triggering international outrage.

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

The United Nations observers have said that the civilians who died were executed at close range, but have not definitively stated whether it was forces loyal to the government or opposition that were responsible.

Assad claimed that international powers were trying to bring about the fall of the government in order to bring chaos to Syria.

Government representatives have long claimed that the armed uprising against Assad's government was funded and organized by outside forces, with Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United States among those alleged to have encouraged the crisis.

"The masks have fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious," Assad said in his first address to the assembly since a May 7 parliamentary election, adding the polls were the perfect response "to the criminal killers and those who finance them".

Assad, dressed in a smart suit and tie, also paid tribute to civilian and military "martyrs" of the violence in Syria, saying their blood was not shed in vain.

"We are not facing a political problem but a project to destroy the country," Assad said, adding there will be "no dialogue" with opposition groups which "seek foreign intervention."

"Syria is open to all Syrians regardless of their views, but terrorism can not be part of the political process and we must fight against terrorism to heal the nation," Assad said, dismissing the impact in Syria of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Assad's accusations came as Arab leaders called on the United Nations to act to end the crisis and France raised the prospect of military action against Damascus under a UN mandate.

On Saturday, violence in Syria killed 89 people, including 57 soldiers, the largest number of casualties the military has suffered in a single day since an uprising began in March 2011, the opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The casualties also included 29 civilians and three army defectors killed in various parts of the country in shelling by regime forces or in clashes or gunfire, the Britain-based group said.

As Arab leaders called for UN action in Syria, France, which spearheaded an air assault against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year, said it was open to military intervention in the country.

France "has not excluded military intervention" in Syria, but only under a United Nations mandate, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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