x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Both sides in Syrian war reshuffle leadership – but Assad stays

The Baath party reshuffle, its first since 2005, includes the replacement of the vice president, Farouk Al Sharaa, although the president, Bashar Al Assad, will keep his post.

DAMASCUS //Syria's ruling Baath party replaced its top leadership in a surprise move yesterday, while in Turkey the interim rebel prime minister announced his resignation.

The Baath party reshuffle, its first since 2005, includes the replacement of the vice president, Farouk Al Sharaa, although the president, Bashar Al Assad, will keep his post.

Mr Al Assad urged the party to "develop" and work more closely with the Syrian people to help end the country's 27-month civil war, state media said.

The party's central committee published the names of 16 members of the new leadership, which included none of the party's old chiefs except for Mr Al Assad, who will remain secretary general of the party.

Among those newly elected to the leadership are the parliament chief, Jihad Al Laham, and the prime minister, Wael Al Halqi.

Bassam Abu Abdullah, director of the Damascus Centre for Strategic Studies, said the overhaul was the result of deep-seated party discontent.

"There has been a lot of criticism from within the base towards the leadership, which has been accused of being inflexible, both before and since the crisis," he said.

The Baath party has been in power since March 8, 1963.

In Istanbul, the rebel premier, Ghassan Hitto, announced his resignation as the main opposition Syrian National Coalition ended a five-day meeting, which the coalition accepted.

Mr Hitto, who is close to the opposition's Islamist ranks and who was backed by Qatar, quit nearly four months after his appointment and after failing to form a government.

His resignation comes two days after secular dissident Ahmad Jarba was chosen to lead the opposition.

Mr Jarba is seen as close to Saudi Arabia, which opposed the choice of Mr Hitto to head the interim government in March.

Mr Hitto said he resigned in order "to help ... the coalition's new leadership to act according to its political vision, especially with regards to the interim government and its executive functions".