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Defiant Assad rejects role in Houla massacre

world Updated: Jun 03, 2012 23:48 IST

AFP
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President Bashar al-Assad dismissed on Sunday accusations his government had any role in the brutal Houla massacre, as he charged forces outside Syria of plotting to destroy the country.

In a rare televised address to parliament, Assad, dressed in a smart suit and tie, said even "monsters" were incapable of carrying out massacres such as last month's killings near the town of Houla in central Syria.

At least 108 people, including 49 children and 34 women, were slaughtered in the massacre which started on May 25 and spilled into the next day, triggering international outrage.

Assad's defiant speech came as Arab leaders called on the United Nations to act to stop bloodshed in Syria, and France raised the prospect of military action against Damascus under a UN mandate.

"What happened in Houla and elsewhere are brutal massacres which even monsters would not have carried out," the Syrian leader said. "The masks have fallen and the international role in the Syrian events is now obvious," he 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 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 would be "no dialogue" with opposition groups which "seek foreign intervention."

"Terrorism cannot be part of the political process," said Assad, who had last spoken in public in January.

In Sunday's speech which lasted more than an hour, he dismissed the impact in Syria of uprisings sweeping the Arab world, saying those demonstrating and fighting against his rule were paid to do so.

"Some are unemployed, they receive money for participating in demonstrations," he said.

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, a watchdog said.

As Arab leaders called for UN action, France, which spearheaded a NATO air assault against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi last year, said it has not excluded military intervention in Syria.