Syria’s President Assad has claimed that the iconic image of Omran Daqneesh — the 5-year-old who was injured in east Aleppo by a Russian-regime airstrike in August — is faked Al Qa’eda propaganda.

Bloodied and dazed, Omran was taken to an ambulance by White Helmets rescuers when his home was destroyed. His parents and siblings were also wounded, with his brother Ali dying days later.

Omran’s photo spurred international attention to the Russian-regime bombing of civilians in opposition areas of Aleppo, threatening to raise political pressure on Moscow and Assad to halt the attacks.

Assad was shown the picture in an interview with Swiss TV, circulated on Wednesday, and asked, “What do you have to say to Omran and his family?”

The President tried to maintain that the image was not real, but part of a plot to discredit him (start from 8:59):

Both were rescued by — what you call them in the West — the White Helmets, which is a facelift of [Jabhat] al-Nusra in Aleppo….They [Omran and his sister] were rescued…as part of the publicity of these White Helmets. None of these incidents were true….

This is a forged picture, not a real one.

Assad’s claims contradicted not only a series of witnesses and the video evidence of the attack on Omran, but also the words of his wife Asma in an interview days earlier with Russian TV.

Asma al-Assad acknowledged the “tragedies” of Omran and of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy washed up on a Turkish beach in September 2015 after a boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean.

No Barrel Bombs, No Killing of Civilians, No Sieges

Assad’s comments about Omran were one of a series of denials in the interview.

The President repeated that the regime does not have barrel bombs, even though they have killed thousands of people. He said that Russian and Syrian warplanes could not have destroyed scores of medical facilities since last September, “Why would the Syrian Government kill civilians?”>

He denied that the regime had any responsbility for the millions of displaced Syrians. Pressed by the interviewer, “The people are not only fleeing because of ISIS or the rebels, they are fleeing because of you,” he responded:

What do you mean by me? I am not asking people to leave Syria. I am not attacking people. I am defending people.

And continuing his answer about Omran and Aleppo, he wished away the Russian-regime siege on opposition areas, initially established in late July and re-imposed in late August:

Aleppo is not under siege [by me]. It is under siege for the last four years by the terrorists.