12/07/2011 12:25 EST | Updated 02/06/2012 05:12 EST

Syria's Assad denies ordering deadly crackdown on 9-month-old uprising

BEIRUT - Syrian President Bashar Assad said in a rare interview broadcast Wednesday that he never ordered the brutal suppression of the uprising in his country and insisted only a "crazy person" would kill his own people.

Apparently trying to distance himself from violence that the U.N. says has killed 4,000 people since March, Assad laughed off a question about whether he feels any guilt.

"I did my best to protect the people," he told ABC's Barbara Walters during an interview at the presidential palace in the Syrian capital, Damascus. "You feel sorry for the life that has been lost, but you don't feel guilty when you don't kill people."

"No government in the world (kills) its people unless it is led by a crazy person," Assad added in the interview, which was conducted in English. Assad, who trained as an opthamologist in Britain, speaks the language fluently.

The interview offered a rare glimpse into the character of the 46-year-old Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000. His brother