(Photo: REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri)
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied Sunday that his government played a role in the May 25 massacre of 116 civilians, including dozens of children and women, in Homs.
Addressing lawmakers at the newly-elected parliament under the new constitution, al-Assad said, "Truthfully, even monsters do not do what we saw, especially in the Houla massacre."
Violence in the Houla village in Homs killed 116 people, including 49 children and 34 women, and wounded more than 300 on May 25 and 26, according to the U.N.
A day later, the U.N. Security Council condemned "in the strongest possible terms the killings, confirmed by United Nations observers, of dozens of men, women and children and the wounding of hundreds more in the village of [Houla], near Homs, in attacks that involved a series of government artillery and tank shellings on a residential neighbourhood."
"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," CNN quoted the Syrian president as saying during his speech Sunday.
Al-Assad alleged Syria was "facing a war from abroad." "Dealing with it is different from dealing with people from inside," he said. However, he added that his government would be willing to provide amnesty for those who stop fighting immediately. "I encourage all of those who are hesitant to drop their weapons at once, and the government will not seek revenge now or later," he said. "We forgave others who stood against us in the past."
Meanwhile, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian rebels killed at least 80 government soldiers over the weekend in attacks on army checkpoints and clashes with forces loyal to al-Assad, according to Reuters.
The U.N. Security Council has demand that the government forces withdraw heavy weapons from Syrian towns.
Syria's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi earlier said Syrian security forces were in their local bases on May 25 when they were attacked by "hundreds of heavily armed gunmen" firing mortars, heavy machine guns and anti-tank missiles, staring a nine-hour battle that killed three soldiers and wounded 16. "No Syrian tank or artillery entered this place where the massacres were committed. The security forces did not leave their places because they were in a state of self-defense."
Makdissi accused the gunmen of a "terrorist massacre," and the media of spinning a "tsunami of lies" to justify foreign intervention in Syria.
Clashes between the government and opposition groups have continued despite the deployment of 280 U.N. observers monitoring a ceasefire, which seeks to end the increasingly violent uprising that began last year and was enforced April 10. U.N. says at least 10,000 civilians have died since the uprising, and the Syrian government claims over 2,600 members of the security services have been killed.
U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan Saturday said Syria was "at a turning point" and "the specter of all-out civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension, grows by the day."