Syrian president Bashar al Assad has denied ordering the killing of anti-regime protesters, saying only a “crazy person” would do so.
Speaking in Damascus, Mr Assad told ABC News’ Barbara Walters that he did his “best to protect the people” and that he gave “no command to kill or to be brutal”.
“There is a difference between having a policy to crack down and between having some mistakes committed by some officials. There is a big difference,” he said.
In his role as president, Mr Assad is the commander of Syria’s armed forces.
The president also dismissed a recent UN report which estimated that more than 4,000 people have died since uprisings began.
“Who said that the United Nations is a credible institution?” he said.
“Most of the people that have been killed are supporters of the government, not the vice versa.”
Mr Assad claimed that the toll actually consists of 1,100 dead soldiers and police and blamed on “individuals” rather than his regime.
“I did my best to protect the people,” he said.
“I cannot feel guilty when you do your best. You feel sorry for the lives that have been lost. But you don’t feel guilty when you don’t kill people. So it’s not about guilty.”
The conflict is said to have taken a heavy toll on children who either took part in protests or were targeted because of their parents’ involvement.
A UN-appointed investigator said that Syria killed 56 children in November alone.
In one high-profile case, Mr Assad denied charges that Syrian forces tortured to death a 13-year-old boy, who rights groups say was shot, burned and castrated in April.
“Every ‘brute reaction’ was by an individual, not by an institution, that’s what you have to know,” the president said.
The British-educated leader said he was not phased by threats of sanctions by the Arab League and the wider international community.
“We’ve been under sanctions for the last 30, 35 years. It’s not something new.”
He said democracy was a long way off in Syria, despite pledges of reform.
“We never said we are democratic country,” he said. “We are moving forward in reforms, especially in the last nine months.
“It takes a long time, it takes a lot of maturity to be a full-fledged democracy.”
US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Mr Assad was trying to shirk responsibility.
“I find it ludicrous that he is attempting to hide behind some sort of shell game but also some sort of claim that he doesn’t exercise authority in his own country,” Toner said.
Peaceful protests against Mr Assad’s leadership, inspired by the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt, were met with massive force as soon as they began in March this year.
Syria is now heading towards civil war as armed opposition groups organise and move into some city districts.
Sky’s senior correspondent Stuart Ramsey recently spent four days in the district of Hom, and discovered a community constantly in fear of sniper fire and other attacks from government forces.
The British Foreign Office’s minister for the Middle East, Alistair Burt, said sanctions against Syria will intensify.
“The sanctions on Syria by the Arab League are most important.
“Such sanctions will continue. The isolation of Syria will continue and intensify,” he warned.