A “wave of revolutions and … popular uprisings” in the Arab world has also touched Syria, Assad admitted in a speech that was frequently interrupted by protestations of loyalty by MPs.
And he acknowledged that reforms planned as long ago as 2005 had not yet been enacted, blaming pressure from foreign powers - notably the US - for the delay.
“Are we late? Yes, we are,” he said.
“In the year 2011 new blood will be running the country,” said Assad, who on Tuesday accepted the resignation of his entire government.
While failing to announce any specific new measures, Assad conceded that the country’s state of emergency, in place since 1963, “causes suffering to the citizens”, attacked “a minority who benefit from corruption” and promised to create jobs.
But he also claimed that protests, which have been particularly stormy in the town of Daraa, have been exploited by conspiracies in favour of Israel.
“The people of Daraa are not responsible for what has happened but they have a responsibility to end the disruption that has taken place,” he told parliament.
“People are being misled, although they had good intentions initially,” he said. “The objective was to fragment Syria … to enforce an Israeli agenda.”
Buoyed up by large demonstrations to support him on Tuesday, Assad declared, “It is important to find the causes and hold account those who have been responsible for bloodshed.”