The image of five-year-old Omran Daqneesh shook the world. Sitting in the back of an ambulance, bloodied and shell-shocked, the iconic photograph evoked fierce condemnation of Syrian President Basahar Assad and his government's aerial bombardment of Aleppo.
However, President Assad has hit back, claiming in an interview on Wednesday that the footage and photographs of Omran are fake.
According to locals, media sources and rescue workers, Omran Daqneesh, was pulled from a destroyed building in the besieged part of Aleppo's Qaterji neighborhood after a Syrian or Russian airstrike on Aug. 17.
However, when confronted with the image during an interview by Swiss channel SRF1, Assad asserted that the image was forged, maintaining his constant stance of denial, denial, denial.
"None of these incidents were true. You can have it manipulated and it is manipulated," Assad said. "This is a false picture, not a real one, we have real pictures of children being harmed, but this one specifically is a forged one," he added.
He went on to claim that the Syrian Civil Defence had faked the footage as part of a propaganda scheme against the Assad government.
"I want you to go back after my interview and go to the Internet and see the same picture of the same child with his sister. Both were rescued by what they call them in the West, White Helmets.... They were rescued twice in different incidents, as part of publicity of those White Helmets," he said.
His comments can be seen 9 minutes into the video:
Assad also used to interview to unflinchingly deny accusations that his government was the responsible for the death of civilians, claiming that his government is protecting Syrian civilans by fighting “terrorists” in Aleppo.
“Of course, it’s our mission according to the constitution and the law. We have to protect the people, and we have to get rid of those terrorists in Aleppo. That’s how we can protect civilians.”
He added that it goes without saying that the way to protect the civilians in Aleppo is to attack the terrorists who hold the civilians under their control and are killing them.
"How can you protect them while they are under the control of terrorists? They've been killed by them, and they've been controlled fully by the terrorists. Is it our role to sit aside and watch if that's how we can protect the Syrian people? We need to attack the terrorists, that's self-evident," he added.
However, while Assad has confidently asserted in many an interview that no human rights violations have been committed on his side, his regime is accused of systematic human rights abuse - including widespread torture and the incessant barrel bombing of innocent civilians. As the death toll of Syria civilians steadily rises from the Syrian army’s Russia-backed campaign, Assad and Moscow have both faced growing international condemnation, his denials falling on deaf ears.