Syrian President Bashar al-Assad condemned on Sunday the "abominable" massacre of more than 100 people in Houla, saying even monsters could not carry out such acts, and promised a 15-month-old crisis would end soon if Syrians pulled together.
Assad repeated earlier pledges to enforce a crackdown on opponents he says are terrorists carrying out a foreign conspiracy, while offering dialogue with opposition figures who had avoided armed conflict or outside backing.
Assad made his comments in a speech to parliament, a rare public appearance one day after international envoy Kofi Annan said the specter of all-out civil war was growing in Syria and the world needed to see action, not words, from Syria's leader.
In his hour-long address, Assad made no specific response to Annan's plea for bold steps to end the conflict, and regional power Saudi Arabia accused him of using Annan's peace plan to buy time for his military offensive against the rebels.
Assad said the Houla killings and other bloody incidents were “ugly and abominable” massacres.
“In truth even monsters do not perpetrate what we have seen, especially the Houla massacre,” he said.
He said his country was facing a war waged from outside and that terrorism was escalating despite political steps including last month's election for parliament, whose new members Assad was addressing.
“We are not facing a political problem because if we were this party would put forth a political program. What we are facing is (an attempt) to sow sectarian strife and the tool of this is terrorism,” Assad said. “The issue is terrorism. We are facing a real war waged from the outside.”
Assad said authorities would maintain their crackdown on the armed opposition but were still ready for dialogue with political opponents.
“We will continue firmly confronting terrorism, leaving the door open for those who want to return. I urge those who are still hesitant to do so, to take this step. The state will not take revenge.”
Annan, the joint United Nations and Arab League envoy for Syria, told an Arab League meeting in Qatar on Saturday that Assad must take “bold and visible” steps immediately to change his military stance and honor his commitment to cease violence.
Annan criticized Assad for failing to comply with a peace plan to end the conflict and said his forces were carrying out atrocities, arbitrary arrests and other abuses.