Syria's president denies ordering crackdown on protesters
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad denied in an interview Wednesday that he had ordered his troops to kill or attack civilians protesting against his rule and insisted he did not feel guilty for the bloodshed, DPA reported.
"Only a crazy person would target his own people," al-Assad told US television network ABC. "There was no command to kill or be brutal. Every brute reaction was by an individual, not an institution, that's what you have to know," he added.
"There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials," al-Assad said, adding that soldiers who brutalised protesters were punished.
At least 10 people were killed in continued violence on Wednesday, opposition activists said. The United Nations has put the death toll from eight months of unrest at more than 4,000.
"Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?" al-Assad said.
"Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not vice versa," Al-Assad said, claiming that some 1,100 soldiers and policemen had been killed in the unrest.
Al-Assad also played down the impact of sanctions imposed on his country by the Arab League, Turkey, and the European Union.
"We've been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It's not something new," he said.
"We're not isolated. You have people coming and going, you have trade, you have everything."
Asked if he regretted the violence, al-Assad said: "I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people. So it's not about guilty."
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said he believed reports of violence against the Syrian people were "credible and shocking" and that al-Assad's remarks showed a disconnection from reality.
"He appeared utterly disconnected with the reality that's going on in his country and the brutal repression that's being carried out against the Syrian people," Toner said. "It's either disconnection, disregard or, as he said, crazy. I don't know."
He called on al-Assad to allow international monitors into his country to assess the situation and back up the regime's claims.
Opposition activists said Wednesday's deaths occurred when Syrian forces shelled areas in the flashpoint city of Homs where protesters had staged anti-Assad demonstrations.
Syrian activists based in neighbouring Lebanon said the Syrian army had besieged hospitals in Homs where doctors are struggling to deal with the wounded.