Syria's Assad Replaces Defense Minister With Army Chief of Staff

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Syrian President Bashar Assad appointed a new Minister of Defense on Monday, amid regional pressure on the current regime to end bloodshed in the country.

General Daoud Rajiha was appointed Minister of Defense, replacing Ali Habib Mahmoud, who was on the European Union's travel ban and asset freeze list for Syrian officials.
Rajiha, a Greek Orthodox Christian, was the army's chief of staff.

Syria's President Bashar Assad with Syrian Defense Minister General Ali Habib and Chief of Staff General Daoud Rajha, August 1, 2010.Credit: Reuters

The government and army are dominated by members of Assad's minority Alawite sect, a Shiite Muslim offshoot, loyal to Assad and his ruling Baath party, which has ruled Syria since 1970.

The new appointment comes after seven people were killed when Syrian troops intensified their operations on pro-democracy protesters.

Three people were killed when security forces used live ammunition on a funeral procession for those who died a day before in the southern province of Daraa, said the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Two women and two children were shot dead in the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, activists said. They were trying to escape a crackdown in the city, where a military assault left at least 50 dead on Sunday.

In Hama, around 1,500 people were arrested in a massive random arrest operation in the al-Garagma neighborhood.

An activist said that security forces were announcing names through loudspeakers, and if that person did not surrender, troops stormed his house and arrested all the men inside.

Dozens more were arrested in the northern province of Idlib when tanks and armored vehicles stormed the town of Maaret al-Naaman.

More than 1,650 people and around 390 security personnel have been killed since protests calling for President Bashar Assad to leave office began in mid-March, according to local human rights advocates.

These reports cannot be independently verified, as the Syrian authorities have barred most foreign media and international human rights groups from the country.

Assad Sunday vowed to continue a crackdown on what he described as outlaws, as international pressure mounts against his government.

Both Kuwait and Bahrain summoned their ambassadors to Syria for "consultation" on Monday, 24 hours after Saudi Arabia recalled its envoy from Damascus.

Also, the world's oldest Sunni religious establishment, Al-Azhar, called for an end to the "tragedy" in Syria, saying the situation had "exceeded all limits."