Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 24 July 2014

Assad: Syria crackdown like surgery

Syrian President Bashar Assad, as he delivers a speech at the parliament in Damascus (AP)

Syrian president Bashar Assad has defended his government's crackdown on opponents, saying a doctor performing emergency surgery does not have blood on his hands if he is trying to save a patient.

In his first speech since January, Mr Assad appeared unmoved by scathing international criticism of his ferocious response to the 15-month-old revolt against his rule, which has left up to 13,000 people dead, according to activists.

Mr Assad also denied responsibility for last week's Houla massacre of more than 100 people, saying not even "monsters" would carry out such an ugly crime. He also declared that terrorists have pushed his country into war.

"When a surgeon in an operating room ... cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him 'your hands are stained with blood'?" the president asked in a televised speech to parliament. Or do we thank him for saving the patient?"

Mr Assad insisted the revolt was the work of foreign-backed extremists - not reformers seeking change.

Although the country has faced widespread international condemnation since Syrian troops unleashed a relentless crackdown on protesters last year, a massacre last week in the central region of Houla brought fresh urgency to solving the crisis.

The opposition and the government have exchanged accusations over the Houla killings, each blaming the other for the house-to-house killings of more than 100 people, many of them small children. UN investigators said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime gunmen are responsible for at least some of the killings.

Mr Assad denied his forces had anything to do with Houla. "Not even monsters would carry out (the crimes) that we have seen, especially the Houla massacre ... There are no Arabic or even human words to describe it," he said in his first public comments about the mass killing.

Mr Assad did acknowledge the toll the crisis has taken on the country, suggesting all the blood that has been spilled is necessary to root out the forces working to drive him from power.

Members of the Syrian opposition brushed off his comments as meaningless. "It is a desperate and silly speech that does not merit a response," said Adib Shishakly, a Saudi-based member of Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian National Council. "He didn't offer anything to the Syrian people during the 70 minutes he spoke."