Syria’s Assad rejects role in Houla massacre


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.”
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.
As Arab leaders called for UN action, France, which spearheaded a NATO air assault against Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi last year, said it has not excluded military intervention in Syria. France “has not excluded military intervention” in Syria, but only under a UN mandate, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said, while urging Russia to drop its backing for Assad.
On Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin stood firm against growing pressure over Moscow’s position on Syria, opposing foreign military intervention and raising doubts about sanctions.
Human Rights Watch singled out Russian firm Rosoboronexport in a statement that called on the international community to stop signing deals with firms that provide arms to Assad’s regime which could make them “an accomplice to crimes against humanity.” Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal accused Assad of “manoeuvring” to gain time.
UN chief calls for broad global talks

UN chief Ban Ki-moon called on Sunday for broad international talks on the rising Syrian crisis, urging Security Council members to consider Arab League demands for stronger UN action in the strife-torn country. “Our priority at this time is to help the Syrian people…I want to welcome a wider international discussion on the future course of actions,” Ban told reporters after a meeting with Organisation of Islamic Cooperation chief, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, in the Saudi port city of Jeddah. Ban said he had “taken note” of Arab League calls for more peace monitors on the ground in Syria and “setting a certain time limit” for implementing international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point Syria peace plan.
Erdogan says Assad being ‘autocratic’

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused his one-time ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of autocratic behaviour, saying that such an approach would not serve peace. “So far, I haven’t seen him approach reforms with a democratic understanding. He is still approaching issues with … an autocratic approach,” Erdogan told reporters in televised remarks. “I believe that it is very hard to achieve peace in Syria as long as this approach continues,” he added. Erdogan said the election “cannot be considered fair in parliamentary systems in the modern world,” pointing to the Syrian opposition boycott. Turkey, once a strong ally of Syria, broke with Damascus after Assad’s regime began cracking down on dissent in March last year.