DAMASCUS: The Syrian government denied Sunday its troops were behind an attack on a string of villages that left more than 90 people dead, blaming the killings on ''hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen'' who also attacked soldiers in the area.
Friday's assault on Houla, an area northwest of the central city ofHoms, was one of the bloodiest single events inSyria's 15-month-old uprising. The UN says 32 children under 10 were among the dead. The international body and others have issued statements appearing to hold the Syrian regime responsible.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi told reporters inDamascusat a news conference thatSyriais being subjected to a ''tsunami of lies'' on Houla. ''We categorically deny the responsibility of government forces for the massacre,'' Makdissi said.
Makdissi said a committee was set up to investigate the incident and results should be out within three days. He added that UN envoy Kofi Annan will be inSyriaon Monday.
The attacks sparked outrage from American and other international leaders, and renewed concerns about the relevance of a month-old international peace plan that has not stopped almost daily violence.
UN observers, among more than 250 who were dispatched in recent weeks to salvage the cease-fire plan, found spent artillery and tank shells at the site Saturday — a finding which would point toward the government's heavily-armed mechanized units.
“Those who use violence for their own agenda will create more instability, more unpredictability and may lead the country to civil war,'' warned the observers' chief Maj. Gen. Robert Mood in a statement.
Makdissi however said ''hundreds of heavily-armed gunmen carrying machineguns, mortars and anti-tank missiles'' launched the attack that started at about 2 p.m. and lasted nine hours, simultaneously from several locations. He added that five army positions in the area came under attack at the same time leaving three soldiers dead and 16 wounded.
''There were no Syrian tanks or artillery in the vicinity'' of Houla, Makdissi said. He added that gunmen used anti-tank missiles and ''Syrian troops retaliated in defense of their positions.''
Kuwait, which currently heads the 22-member Cairo-based Arab League, announced it is calling for an Arab ministerial meeting that aims to ''take steps to put an end to the oppressive practices against the Syrian people.''