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Assad maintains that Syrian government is not responsible for ‘monstrous massacres’

By Rima Marrouch and Patrick J. O’Donnell, Los Angeles Times –

AMMAN, Jordan — Syrian President Bashar Assad offered no new concessions Sunday from his embattled administration, instead assailing a “foreign conspiracy” against Syria and rejecting any government role in recent “monstrous massacres” across the nation.

“The truth is that even monsters do not do what we saw, especially in the Houla massacre,” Assad said, referring to the house-to-house executions last month of more than 100 people, mostly women and children, in the central township of Houla.

The killings in Houla drew international repudiation of Syria. United Nations officials said evidence pointed to pro-government death squads as the killers. But authorities in Syria blamed the massacre on foreign-backed “terrorists” seeking to frame Syrian security services and undermine a U.N. peace plan.

“The crisis is not internal,” Assad said, repeating his government’s long-term assertion that foreign powers are stoking the uprising aimed at ending his rule. “Rather, it is a foreign war with internal tools, and everybody is responsible for defending the homeland.”

The nationally televised speech before the newly elected Parliament seemed aimed mostly at a domestic audience. The president appeared to be preparing Syrians for more hardship after months of violence and economic sanctions have battered and traumatized the population.

“We are facing a real war from outside,” Assad said.

The Syrian leader offered no new measures to help resuscitate the stalled United Nations-brokered peace plan, widely violated by both sides in the almost 15-month-old conflict.

U.N. special envoy Kofi Annan has called on Assad to take “bold and visible steps” to help implement the faltering peace plan, which, among other things, calls for withdrawal of government troops from populated areas. On Saturday, Annan warned of “all-out civil war, with a worrying sectarian dimension,” if the peace plan fails.

“What is important is not the words he used but the action he takes — now,” Annan said Saturday in the Persian Gulf nation of Qatar, clearly putting the onus on the Syrian president to undertake some new initiative.

Assad—who assumed power in 2000 after the death of his father, Hafez Assad—seemed to allude to widespread fears of ever-greater sectarian killings in Syria, with its volatile mix of sects. “The problem is some people are pushed by anger to destroy the country,” he said.

Assad mocked the calls for “democracy” from the opposition. “This democracy that they talked about is soaked with our blood,” he said.

The Syrian government has long alleged that outside “enemies” are providing weapons, cash and training to Syrian rebels. The Syrian armed opposition says it is an indigenous movement, though it has called on other nations to provide funding and arms for insurgents fighting to end the more than 40-year rule of the Assad family.

More than 10,000 people reportedly have died in Syria since the uprising began in March 2011.

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