Last updated: 23 June, 2012

Syria’s Assad forms new government but retains top ministers

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree on Saturday forming a new government, state television said, less than two months after controversial parliamentary elections boycotted by the opposition.

“President Bashar al-Assad has issued Decree 210 forming a new government under Prime Minister Dr Riad Hijab,” the television said.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem will remain in his post, as will the defense and interior ministers, Daoud Rajha and Mohammad al-Shaar.

Rajha, defense minister since August, was among those sanctioned by the United States for his role in the crackdown on Syrian protesters.

Hijab, the former agriculture minister, assumed the role of premier on June 6. He was tasked with forming a new government following May 7 “multiparty” elections, dismissed as a sham by the opposition and Western powers.

Meanwhile, a national reconciliation portfolio was created for the first time by the regime, which has been suppressing a popular uprising for the past 15 months amd labels protesters and armed rebels alike as “terrorists”.

Ali Haidar, a member of the Syria-based opposition tolerated by the regime, was given the post.

Qadri Jamil, another Syria-based opposition figure, was appointed deputy prime minister for economic affairs and minister of domestic trade and consumer protection, a portfolio that replaces the former ministry of provision and domestic trade.

Neither Jamil nor Haidar are members of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition coalition abroad, whose primary demand is the departure of the Assad regime.

They are co-presidents of the Popular Front for Change and Liberation, established in July 2011, which supports peaceful dissent, but does not explicitly call for the fall of the regime. It also rejects foreign intervention.

Lawyer Omran al-Zohbi was appointed as information minister, according to a list published by state news agency SANA, which reported that five ministries were revamped.

The new cabinet, which is comprised of 34 ministers, assumes power amid an instensification of repression and clashes in the country, which last week led to the the halt of the United Nations observer mission.

At least 15 people were killed by troops across Syria on Saturday, while 116 people, including 69 civilians were killed on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

International envoy to Syria Kofi Annan earlier urged the world to raise the level of pressure on both the Syrian opposition and the regime to try to end the violence that monitors say has claimed 15,000 lives since March 2011.