Assad says Houla killings monstrous, crisis will end
By Mariam Karouny and Khaled Yacoub Oweis
BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) - Syrian President Bashar al-Assad condemned on Sunday 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.
Assad repeated earlier pledges to enforce a crackdown on opponents he says are terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy, while offering dialogue with opposition figures who had avoided armed conflict or outside backing.
His remarks were at odds with those of U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous - that army shelling killed many Houla victims and that pro-Assad militiamen probably killed the others, many of them women and children.
Assad made his comments in a speech to parliament, a rare public appearance one day after international envoy Kofi Annan said the specter of all-out civil war was growing in Syria and the world needed to see action, not words, from Syria's leader.
In his hour-long address, Assad made no specific response to Annan's plea for bold steps to end the conflict, and regional power Saudi Arabia accused him of using Annan's peace plan to buy time for his military offensive against the rebels.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she had urged Russia to push harder for "political transition" in Syria, language which Washington uses to mean ending Assad's rule.
Thousands of people have been killed in a crackdown on protests which erupted in March last year and have become increasingly militarized, destabilizing neighboring Lebanon and raising fears of regional turmoil.
"This crisis is not an internal crisis. It is an external war carried out by internal elements," said a relaxed-looking Assad. "If we work together, I confirm that the end to this situation is near." Continued...