Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad, battling civil unrest and calls for his removal from office, retained key ministers including those handling the defense and finance portfolios as he appointed a new prime minister.
Riad Hijab, a former agriculture minister, was named the premier, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency reported. The cabinet, which replaces the 14-month-old government of Adil Safar, will retain Dawoud Rajhah as defense minister, Walid al-Muallem as foreign minister, Mohammad al-Jleilati as finance minister and Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar as interior minister, according to SANA. Said Muzi Hneidi will replace Sufian Alao as oil minister.
The announcement came after Syria shot down a Turkish military plane over the Mediterranean Sea, further straining relations between the neighbors that have been inflamed by Syria’s repression of the uprising. A total of 25 people were killed by Syrian forces today amid fighting across the country, Al Jazeera reported, citing the Syrian Human Rights Network.
Syrian government forces have failed to crush the 15-month revolt in a crackdown that the United Nations estimates has left more than 10,000 dead. Assad, 46, is fighting to extend his family’s four-decade hold on power. While more than 70 percent of Syria’s population is Sunni Muslim, Assad and the ruling elite are in a minority, belonging to an offshoot of the Shiite branch of Islam that predominates in Iran.