Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared in person Sunday to deny that his forces were responsible for the gruesome Houla massacre, repeating the line his officials have taken for a week.

In a televised speech to Parliament in Damascus, Assad said, The truth is that even monsters do not do what we saw, especially in the Houla massacre, the Los Angeles Times reported. There are no Arabic or even human words to describe it. 

If we don't feel the pain that squeezes our hearts, as I felt it, for the cruel scenes -- especially the children -- then we are not human beings, Assad said, according to the Associated Press, in his first public address since January.

Most observers have blamed the May 25 house-to-house executions in the central township of Houla of more than 100 people, mostly women and children, on the army and militias allied to the regime. 

The crisis is not internal, Assad declared, 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. 

He 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, the president said.

Assad, a physician before he succeeded his father as president, defended his regime's crackdown against the opposition, likening it to a surgeon performing an operation.

When a surgeon in an operating room ... cuts and cleans and amputates, and the wound bleeds, do we say to him, 'Your hands are stained with blood?' Or do we thank him for saving the patient?

Today, we are defending a cause and a country. We do not do this because we like blood. A battle has been forced on us, and the result is this bloodshed that we are seeing, he said.

The Syrian opposition brushed off his comments as lies.

It is a desperate and silly speech that does not merit a response, said Adib Shishakly, a Saudi-based member of the country's main opposition group, the Syrian National Council. He didn't offer anything to the Syrian people during the 70 minutes he spoke.

Shishakly, the grandson of a former president of Syria, described Assad's statements on the Houla massacre as lies to justify the killings because of the immense international pressure on his regime.

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.