I have no blood on my hands, says Assad
President Bashar al-Assad has rejected accusations that he is responsible for the deaths of thousands of protesters in Syria's nine-month uprising, telling an interviewer that he would be "crazy" if he killed his own people.
Mr Assad shocked the Arab world with his point-by-point denial of allegations from human rights groups the United Nations and neighbouring countries that his troops had arrested and killed children and carried out sweeping, deadly assaults on protesters across Syria.
He told Barbara Walters, the American television journalist, that most of those killed in the violence had been his own soldiers and supporters. His performance, in which he came across as the same young, unruffled and genial figure as before the crisis, did not include any offer of remorse.
"We don't kill our people," he said. "No government in the world kills its people, unless it's led by a crazy person."
A senior European diplomat said: "He is very good at sounding reasonable and appealing to a Western audience, but behind closed doors is another matter." The White House last night rejected Mr Assad's claims as "not credible".
"The world has witnessed what has happened in Syria," said a spokesman. "The United States and many, many other nations around the world who have come together to condemn the atrocious violence in Syria perpetrated by the Assad regime know exactly what's happening and who is responsible."
Mr Assad accepted only that some in the armed forces had "gone too far", but said punishments had been meted out in those cases. "Every brute reaction was by an individual, not by an institution, that's what you have to know."
He tried to play down his role as leader and commander-in-chief, querying a description of them as "his" forces. "They are not my forces, they belong to the government. I don't own them. There were no commands to kill or be brutal."
Mr Assad's refusal to accept responsibility for a situation that is slipping into civil war will infuriate the Arab League, and comes as he is continuing to try to ward off sanctions levied by the organisation last week.
His latest "agreement" to allow observers into the country came with so many attached conditions that it was immediately rejected
The speech will harden attitudes in the opposition, which already numbers armed groups fighting Mr Assad's troops in its ranks and has begun to issue calls for outside assistance.
Turkey, though, denied claims in Syrian state media that it had supported an attempted cross-border raid by Syrian rebels earlier this week.
In the interview, Mr Assad directly rejected questions relating to a string of documented atrocities and abuses. "To be frank with you, Barbara, I don't believe you," he replied when she said she had seen pictures of children being arrested. "You are talking about false allegations and distortions of reality." (© Daily Telegraph, London)