Assad reshuffles cabinet; warplanes raid Damascus

February 10, 2013 - 2:37:46 am

DAMASCUS: President Bashar Al Assad reshuffled his cabinet yesterday as regime warplanes raided rebel areas in a bid to end the stalemate in Syria’s deadly civil war and hopes for a political solution appeared to founder.

Syria is in the depths of an unprecedented economic recession because of the violence gripping the country for nearly two years, and the latest government reshuffle focused on finance and social affairs portfolios.

The World Bank says the country’s gross domestic product has shrunk by 20 percent.

Assad changed seven ministers, the official SANA news agency reported.

He split the labour and social affairs ministry into two, bringing in a woman, Kinda Shmat, to head the latter. Hassan Hijazi became labour minister.

Ismail Ismail got the finance portfolio and Sleiman Abbas the oil and mineral resources job. The housing and urban development, agriculture and public works ministers also changed.

Assad has reshuffled the government several times since the uprising against his rule began in March 2011, most recently in August 2012 following the defection of former premier Riad Hijab.

Efforts to find a political solution to the conflict, which the UN says has killed more than 60,000 people, appeared deadlocked yesterday, hours after Damascus offered talks without preconditions.

The opposition has demanded the talks focus on Assad’s departure.

Information Minister Omran Al Zohbi said on Friday that the regime was prepared to have talks with its political foes so long as they set no preconditions.

“The door is open, the negotiating table is there, welcome to any Syrian who wants to have dialogue with us,” he said.

“When you speak of dialogue, it means dialogue without conditions, which excludes no one... There must be no preconditions.”

In the latest fighting, regime warplanes launched air strikes within the Menegh military airbase in the northern province of Aleppo after rebels stormed parts of the garrison, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. 

Clashes in Aleppo city killed at least six soldiers and a Kurdish militant, the Observatory said, while pro-regime gunmen attacked Kurdish militia checkpoints in another area of the northern metropolis.

Air raids also targeted northern and eastern areas outlying Damascus and jets hit the town of Sabineh south of the capital as rebels and troops clashed in the nearby town of Daraya, the watchdog said.

The British-based Observatory said at least 90 people were killed in violence nationwide yesterday.

Maronite Patriarch Beshara Rai of Lebanon, meanwhile, arrived in Damascus for today’s enthronement of Syria’s Greek Orthodox leader Yuhanna X Yazigi, in a show of support for the country’s minority Christian community.

“We are here in solidarity with all the people who are suffering in Syria,” Rai said at Saint Anthony’s Cathedral in the Christian district of Bab Tuma.