The Syrian opposition on Sunday rejected President Bashar al-Assad’s new peace initiative, including a national reconciliation conference and a new government.
Louay Safi, a member of the Syrian National Coalition, dismissed the address to the nation as “empty rhetoric”.
“He did not offer to step down, which was a precondition to start any negotiation,” Safi was quoted by AlJazeera as saying.
“He has shown that he is a dictator that we cannot negotiate with. I think he has no desire to relinquish power. He wants to crush the opposition and he hopes he can stay over for the next 40 years like his father did.”
Assad called for a “war to defend the nation”, describing rebels fighting him as terrorists and foreign agents. A reconciliation conference that he proposed should exclude “those who have betrayed Syria”.
Assad must step down in order to bring about a political solution to the war in his country, EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said.
“We will look carefully if there is anything new in the speech but we maintain our position that Assad has to step aside and allow for a political transition,” a spokesman Ashton said.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “empty promises of reform fool no one”.
The United Nations says 60,000 people have been killed in the civil war in Syria.
In his speech, Assad thanked Russia, China and Iran for their support of Syria and their stance that the Syrian people should alone decide their faith. “We salute you and we thank you for your support,” he said.
Western powers have insisted on Assad’s departure before the formation of a new government of national unity while Russia insisted that the decision be left to the “Syrian people.”