Rob Wallace / ABC
Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad sits down with ABC News Anchor Barbara Walters for an interview aired Wednesday. It was his first on-camera interview with an American journalist since the uprising in Syria began last March.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied ordering his troops to kill peaceful demonstrators, saying in an interview that only a "crazy" leader would slay his own people.
"No government in the world kills its people, unless it is led by a crazy person," he told ABC News' Barbara Walters in an interview.
Peaceful protests against Assad, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, were met with massive force as soon as they began in March. Now Syria is creeping closer to civil war as armed opposition groups organize and move into some city districts.
Walters interspersed the interview with video of alleged fighting and pictures said to show evidence of the ongoing crackdown. The United Nations has accused Syrian forces of crimes against humanity, rape and other sexual crimes against protesters, including against children.
Army defectors ambushed dozens of Syrian troops and regime forces gunned down civilians. NBC's Richard Engel reports.
Syrian activists say around a quarter of the more than 4,500 deaths they have recorded in nine months of protest have been among the security forces. Most foreign media have been excluded from Syria, making it hard to verify events independently.
"There was no command to kill or to be brutal" in Syria, he said. "Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa."
The White House rejected Assad's claim that he has not given any order to kill peaceful protesters.
"It is just not credible," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
"The world has witnessed what has happened in Syria. 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," he said. "I don't think anybody who watched that interview would find Mr. Assad's answers credible."
'Dictator by accident'
Assad conceded that some members of his armed forces had gone too far, but said they had been punished.
"Every 'brute reaction' was by an individual, not an institution, that's what you have to know," he told ABC's Barbara Walters.
After the interview, Walters described Assad as a "dictator by accident" and a "mild-mannered opthamologist."
The Arab League has threatened to impose sanctions on Syria unless armed forces are verifiably withdrawn from towns and cities and a political dialogue is opened with opposition representatives. Major Western powers as well as neighbors Turkey and Jordan are calling on Assad to step down.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that Washington and its NATO allies wanted Assad to make way for a government ready to establish the rule of law and protect "the rights of all citizens, regardless of sect or ethnicity or gender."
Reuters contributed to this report.
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