Assad condemns Houla massacre
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad today condemned the "abominable" massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, saying even monsters could not carry out such acts, and promised a 15-month-old crisis would end soon if Syrians pulled together.
In a speech to parliament Mr Assad repeated many of his earlier pledges to maintain a crackdown on opponents he describes as terrorists implementing a foreign conspiracy, while offering dialogue with those opposition figures who have avoided armed conflict or outside backing.
He made his comments a day after international envoy Kofi Annan said the spectre of all-out civil war was growing daily in Syria and the world needed to see actions, not words, from Mr Assad.In his hour-long address, Mr Assad offered no specific response to Mr Annan's plea for bold steps to end the conflict.
Thousands of people have been killed in a crackdown on protests against Mr Assad, which erupted in March last year and have become increasingly militarised, destabilising neighbouring Lebanon and raising fears of regional turmoil.
"This crisis is not an internal crisis. It is an external war carried out by internal elements," Mr Assad said, looking relaxed as he spoke to parliamentarians.
"If we work together, I confirm that the end to this situation is near."
Last month's massacre in Houla of 108 people, mostly women and children, triggered global outrage and warnings that Syria's relentless bloodshed - undimmed by Mr Annan's April 12th ceasefire deal - could engulf the Middle East.Sunni Muslim powers, particularly wealthy Gulf Arab states, have strongly supported the uprising against Mr Assad, an Alawite closely allied with Shi'ite
Iran and Hezbollah.Western powers have accused Syrian armed forces and pro-Assad militia of responsibility for the May 25th Houla killing, a charge Damascus has denied.
"What happened in Houla...and what we described as ugly and abominable massacres, or true monstrosities - even monsters do not perpetrate what we have seen," Mr Assad said.
He said his country was facing a war waged from outside and that terrorism was escalating despite political steps including last month's election for parliament, whose new members Mr Assad was addressing.
"We are not facing a political problem because if we were this party would put forth a political programme. What we are facing is (an attempt) to sow sectarian strife and the tool of this is terrorism," Mr Assad said.
"The issue is terrorism. We are facing a real war waged from the outside."
Authorities will maintain a crackdown against the armed opposition but were still ready for dialogue with political opponents, he added.
"We will continue firmly confronting terrorism, leaving the door open for those who want to return. I urge those who are still hesitant to do so, to take this step. The state will not take revenge."Abdelbaset Sida of the opposition Syrian National Council dismissed the speech as more rhetoric.