Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has rejected calls from the Cairo-based Arab League to hand over power and set up a unity government with the opposition.

The Arab League, meeting in Cairo on 22 January, called for Al-Assad to step down and for Syria to form a unity government with the opposition within two months. At the meeting, the Arab foreign ministers agreed on a new political roadmap that would see Al-Assad relinquish power and create a unity government as a precursor to parliamentary and presidential elections.

“Syria rejects the decisions taken, which are outside an Arab working plan and considers them an attack on its national sovereignty and a flagrant interference in internal affairs,” a Syrian official was quoted as saying in the international press.

The unnamed official also said that the proposals were not in the interests of the Syrian people and that the current regime was committed to “advancing its political reforms and bringing security and stability to its people who have shown, during this crisis, their support for national unity as they have rallied around President Assad”.

At the Cairo meeting Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal said Riyadh was withdrawing its monitors from the Arab League observer mission in Syria in response to Damascus breaking promises on peace initiatives.

On 26 December, a team of Arab League monitors entered Syria to oversee a deal that would protect civilians and put an end to the violence. Syria let the monitors into the country to avoid the threat of sanctions from the Arab body.

The UN estimates that more than 5,000 civilians have been killed since protests began in March 2011.