Syrian President Bashar Assad said on Sunday that, despite deep suspicion from the United Nations, the Syrian government had nothing to do with last week's massacre in Houla, where more than 100 people—many of them children—were killed.
"Truthfully, not even monsters would carry out [the crimes] that we have seen, especially the Houla massacre," Assad said in a televised speech to the Syrian parliament in Damascus, his first public comments since the massacre. "There are no Arabic or even human words to describe it. 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."
Assad blamed foreign terrorists for the killings.
"At this time, we are facing a war from abroad," he said. "Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside."
[Related: Boy played dead to survive Houla massacre]
"If we don't feel the pain that squeezes our hearts, as I felt it, for the cruel scenes—especially the children—then we are not human beings," Assad continued.
More from the Associated Press transcript:
"We will not be lenient. We will be forgiving only for those who renounce terrorism. ... 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?' Or do we thank him for saving the patient? ... Today we are defending a cause and a country. We do not do this because we like blood. A battle has been forced on us, and the result is this bloodshed that we are seeing."
Adib Shishakly, a Saudi-based member of the Syrian National Council opposition group, called it a "a desperate and silly speech that does not merit a response," according to the AP.
Assad's comments came on the heels of a meeting with United Nations peace envoy Kofi Annan, who said he delivered a blunt message to the Syrian leader: "What is important is not the words he uses but the action he takes—now," Annan said on Saturday at a meeting with the Arab League, according to Reuters. "He must make bold and visible steps immediately to radically change his military posture and honor his commitment to withdraw heavy weapons and cease all violence."
Annan added: "The specter of all-out civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day."
According to Reuters, at least nine people were killed and 42 wounded over the weekend "in clashes between Assad supporters and opponents, who fired machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades at each other in neighboring Lebanon's northern port city of Tripoli."
Annan warned that the violence in Syria was spilling over to other Middle East countries.