Despite an hour-long speech in which he pledged to hold a "national reconciliation conference" if rebels laid down their weapons and to discuss a new constitution that could be put to a referendum, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must still step aside, the EU reiterated, on 7 January.

"We regret that the Syrian regime is not willing to commit to a credible political solution to the Syrian crisis," a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement. However, he reiterated that "President al-Assad should step aside in order to facilitate an inclusive and democratic transition".

In his televised address, the first in the past six months, al-Assad did not, however, show any signs that he was ready to quietly bow down as he called for "total national mobilisation" to defend the nation against the army of rebels, which he described as carrying the "al-Qaeda ideology".

"We are now in a state of war in every sense of the word," al-Assad said, explaining that "this war targets Syria using a handful of Syrians and many...

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