“People went from house to house. Children were arrested. I saw those pictures,” Walters said to Assad.

“To be frank with you, Barbara, I don’t believe you,” Assad said…

In his interview with Walters, his first sit down with an American journalist since the protests began, Assad denied he ordered a crackdown and blamed the violence on criminals, religious extremists and terrorists sympathetic to al Qaeda he claims are mixed in with peaceful demonstrators.

He said the victims of the street violence were not civilians protesters battling decades of one-party rule, he insisted.

“Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa,” he said. The dead have included 1,100 soldiers and police, he said.