Syria's Assad forms new government, keeps top ministers
President Assad shakes up many cabinet posts, but keeps the heads of the interior, defense and foreign ministries, state TV reported.
Syrian President Bashar Assad issued a decree to form a new government on Saturday, shaking up many cabinet posts but keeping the heads of the interior, defense and foreign ministries, state television reported.
The reappointment of Defense Minister Daoud Rajha will quash widespread rumors, previously denied by the government, that he had been assassinated by rebels who are struggling to bring down President Bashar Assad's rule.
The 16-month uprising, which has faced a brutal government crackdown, is increasingly being termed a civil war by foreign observers. Assad argues he is pursuing reforms even as he fights a revolt he says is led by foreign-backed militants.
But critics say Assad's appointment of Riyad Hijab as prime minister earlier in June was a sign the president was turning to hardline loyalists. Hijab formed the new government given Assad's approval, Syria TV said on Saturday.
Hijab, a former agriculture minister, is a committed member of Assad's Baath Party, which has ruled Syria for nearly four decades since his father Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970.
Most of the top government posts were given to Baathist loyalists. Critics consider the cabinet to be largely symbolic and say power in Syria remains in the hands of Assad and his close inner circle of family and security force elites.
The new cabinet follows a May 7 parliamentary election which Assad said was part of the path to reform but the opposition boycotted as a sham, insisting the president must step down.
Other than Rajha, the ministers to retain their post were Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
Several new ministries were created in the new cabinet.
The moderate Qadri Jamil, a centrist who has said he is speaking both to the government and to rebels, was appointed minister of internal commerce and consumer protection. The post is newly formed and likely to be mostly ceremonial.
Meanwhile, Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Saturday it was not possible to ignore the fact that Syria had shot down a Turkish fighter jet one day earlier, and said everything that needed to be done following the incident would be done, according to Turkish media reports.
"It is not possible to cover over a thing like this, whatever is necessary will no doubt be done," Gul told reporters from the central Anatolian city of Kayseri.
The Turkish military said it had lost contact with one of its F-4 fighter jets off the southern Turkish coast near Syria on Friday morning and Damascus later acknowledged it had shot the plane down.