BEIRUT: Syrian President Bashar Assad defended his government’s crackdown on opponents Sunday, saying a doctor performing messy emergency surgery does not have blood on his hands if he is trying to save a patient.
In his first speech since January, Assad appeared unmoved by scathing international criticism of his ferocious response to the 15-month-old revolt against his rule, which has killed up to 13,000 people, according to activist groups. He 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 said 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?” Assad asked in a televised speech to parliament. “Or do we thank him for saving the patient?”
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 has brought fresh urgency to solving the crisis.
The opposition and the government have exchanged accusations over the Houla deaths, each blaming the other for the house-to-house killings of more than 100 people, many of them small children. U.N. investigators have said there are strong suspicions that pro-regime gunmen are responsible for at least some of the killings.