According to a statement by the deputy head of Iran's elite Quds force, Ismail Gha'ani, Iran is aiding the Syrian army as Bashar Assad's regime carries out a brutal crackdown on the country's uprising.

The semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency (ISNA) reportedly quoted Gha'ani on Sunday, May 27, as claiming that Iran's presence in Syria prevented "big massacres."

"If the Islamic republic was not present in Syria, the massacre of people would have happened on a much larger scale," Gha'ani said, according to Al Arabiya.

The Guardian notes that the interview has since been removed from the ISNA website.

Iran is a close ally of Syria, and has been accused of supporting the Assad regime's crackdown on opposition protests.

Gha'ani's comments come in the wake of one of the worst massacres since the start of the uprising in Syria. On Friday, shortly after midday prayers, Syrian troops reportedly opened fire on protesters outside the town of Houla in Homs province, killing at least 108 people, including dozens of women and children.