Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad has promised elections and a complete reform package within months in his third televised speech since the country’s forces’ violent crackdown on civil rights and pro-democracy protestors.

The leader has also called on all refugees to return home and guaranteed their safety as he promises to distinguish between people with legitimate needs and “saboteurs” of the peace process.

Assad’s speech comes after British foreign secretary, William Hague warned that he must stop the bloodshed or step down.

An estimated 1400 Syrians have been killed in a brutal clampdown on the unrest since March, as the embattled Assad blames violent factions for trying to scupper reform in the country.

Assad claims the country has reached a turning point after two months of nationwide protests and said today that a national dialogue would begin soon, promising parliamentary elections in August and a complete reform package by September.

In a televised address at Damascus University, Assad stressed he had heeded calls for reform citing as examples laws he had passed for the right of peaceful protest and his lifting of the state of emergency.

However, as EU leaders discuss a tightening of sanctions against the Syrian government, Hague has called on al-Assad to step aside if he cannot deliver reforms.

Despite brutal suppression by Assad's regime, hundreds of thousands of Syrians have taken to the streets to demand greater democracy and civil liberties.

The latest crackdowns came at the weekend in north-western Syria when government forces besieged several towns. Tanks and machine guns were sent in Saturday to stop anti-government rallies in Bdama near the Turkish border, opposition groups said. Army forces fired randomly at houses and besieged the town, injuring at least 20 people, they said.

The incident was part of operations against government opponents and deserters in Idlib province, which have seen more than 10,500 people, including 5,300 children, flee to Turkey in the past 10 days, Turkey's Anadolu news agency said Sunday.

Syrian human rights campaigners have accused the army of stopping those still inside Syria from leaving.

"The Syrian army has spread around the border area to prevent frightened residents from fleeing across the border to Turkey," Ammar al-Qurabi told Reuters.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, has pledged to keep Turkey's borders open to refugees and has described the Syrian government crackdown "savagery".

Assad defended the crackdown, citing the recent attack on the north-western town of Jisr al-Shughour, was upon protesters he described as "gunmen with sophisticated weapons and communications" who had carried out a "massacre" in the city.

The Syrian opposition government estimates that more than 1400 Syrians have been killed and 10,000 detained as Assad's forces try to clamp down on protesters whose movement was inspired by the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

But defiant Al-Assad said Syria was at a "turning point" after "difficult days," and promised it would emerge stronger in the face of those "plotting" against it.

Protesters won’t back down, insisting they will accept nothing less than the downfall of a regime that has held power for more than 40 years

Turkey is currently holding intense talks with Damascus to put pressure on Syria.

"We are awaiting a speech by President Assad this morning. The United Kingdom looks to him, to respond to legitimate grievances, to release prisoners of conscience, to open up access to the internet and freedom of the media and to cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights," he said.

"I hope our Turkish colleagues will bring every possible pressure to bear on the Assad regime, with a very clear message that they are losing legitimacy that Assad should reform or step aside. We hope they will be very clear and very bold about that."

The EU is preparing to extend sanctions from the Syrian dictator's inner circle to Syria's sovereign wealth funds and bank accounts.