Syrian president condemns Houla massacre, rejects accusations

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 5:22 PM EDT, Sun June 3, 2012

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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: 37 people are killed throughout Syria on Sunday, an opposition group says
  • Syrian president: “Even monsters do not do what we saw” in Houla
  • Opposition: Five people are killed as shelling fell on cities during al-Assad’s speech
  • Kofi Annan: The specter of all-out civil war with a sectarian dimension grows every day

(CNN) — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied Sunday that government forces were behind the “outrageous” massacre of more than 100 civilians, including dozens of small children, in the town of Houla.

“Truthfully, even monsters do not do what we saw, especially in the Houla massacre,” he told lawmakers. “The criminal or criminals who committed this crime and others are not criminals for an hour or criminals for a day, they are constant criminals and are surely planning other crimes.”

Speaking before the newly-elected People’s Assembly on Sunday, al-Assad decried what he called the “terrorists” and “conspiracy” against Syria.

“At this time, we are facing a war from abroad,” al-Assad said in his first public speech since January. “Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside.”

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His speech came a week after the U.N. Security Council condemned the Houla massacre, with members casting blame on government forces for the deaths.

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Al-Assad’s remarks stand in stark contrast to what the opposition and many world leaders have said for more than a year — that al-Assad’s forces, not “terrorists,” are behind a sustained slaughter stemming from the regime’s crackdown on dissidents.

As the president spoke, heavy shelling rained on the anti-government bastion of Homs, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said. Thirty-seven people were killed throughout Syria on Sunday, including five children, the group said.

Opposition activists also reported seeing a large military convoy of about 45 trucks carrying tanks, armored personnel carriers and soldiers heading toward Deir Ezzor during al-Assad’s speech.

Al-Assad insisted “the battle is forced upon us,” but promised amnesty for those who stop fighting immediately.

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“I encourage all of those who are hesitant to drop their weapons at once, and the government will not seek revenge now or later,” he said in his 70-minute speech. “We forgave others who stood against us in the past.”

The president also touted what he called political reforms and denounced those he said were conspiring against Syria.

“Standing up against the conspiracy is not easy, but we will overcome the obstacles,” al-Assad said.