President Bashar al-Assad reshuffled his cabinet today even as regime
warplanes raided rebel areas in a bid to end the stalemate in Syria's deadly
civil war while 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 20 per cent,
and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) puts
unemployment at 37 per cent and possibly hitting 50 per cent by the end of 2013.
Assad changed seven ministers, the official SANA news agency reported. It said
he split the ministry of labour and social affairs into two, and brought in a
woman, Kinda Shmat, to head the latter. Hassan Hijazi becomes labour minister.
Ismail Ismail becomes finance minister and Sleiman Abbas takes the oil and
mineral resources portfolio. The housing and urban development, agriculture and
public works ministers also changed.
Assad has announced several reshuffles since the uprising against his rule
began, the most recent in August 2012.
Efforts towards finding a political solution to the conflict, which the UN says
has killed more than 60,000 people, appeared to be deadlocked, hours after
Damascus offered talks without preconditions.
The opposition has demanded Assad's departure be the focus of any talks.
Opposition Syrian National Coalition had said on February 1, the day after an
offer of dialogue by its leader Ahmed Moaz al-Khatib, that any talks on the
country's political future must be about the departure of the regime.
In the latest fighting, air raids today hit northern and eastern areas outlying
the capital, amid fighting between loyalist troops and insurgents, a watchdog
Warplanes also hit the town of Sabineh south of Damascus, and fierce clashes
broke out between rebels and troops in the embattled town of Daraya, where the
army shelled insurgent positions, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
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