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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 September 2018

Syrian president reshuffles government: state media 

The announcement comes as different parts of Syria witness increased violence

Syrian president Bashar al-Assad speaking to reporters after a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin and a Russian delegation in Damascus in December last year. Assad reshuffled his government, replacing the ministers of defense, information and industry. EPA
Syrian president Bashar al-Assad speaking to reporters after a meeting with Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Rogozin and a Russian delegation in Damascus in December last year. Assad reshuffled his government, replacing the ministers of defense, information and industry. EPA

President Bashar Assad reshuffled his government on Monday replacing the ministers of defence, information and industry, Syria's state news agency SANA reported.

SANA gave no reason for the government reshuffle that comes at a time when Mr Assad's forces have been gaining ground over the past two years with the help of Russian air cover and Iran-backed fighters. But changes of senior ministers are not unusual in Syria.

It said army commander General Ali Ayoub has been named defence minister replacing Fahd Jassem Al Freij who had held the post since 2012. Gen. Ayoub had been the army chief of staff since July 2012 before becoming defence minister.

Imad Sarah has been named information minister while Mohammed Mazen Youssef has been chosen as the new minister of industry.

The announcement came as different parts of Syria witnessed violence, mostly in the suburbs of the capital Damascus and northwestern Syria, where troops are on the offensive on the southern edge of Idlib province, which is still held by rebels.

Heavy clashes broke out between Syrian government forces and insurgents east of Damascus when troops tried to reach a unit trapped inside, opposition activists said.

The clashes have been ongoing for three days but on Sunday, rebels backed by al-Qaida-linked fighters attacked troops and pro-government gunmen capturing parts of a military installation and surrounding a force inside.

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The war monitor the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, and Syria-based activist Mazen Al Shami said Monday's fighting was concentrated inside the military installation near the suburb of Harasta, where the government force has been trapped.

The Observatory said the Syrian air force conducted at least a dozen air strikes on Harasta and nearby suburbs. Mr Al Shami reported dozens of air strikes and said the government brought in reinforcements overnight.

Three days of violence in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta has killed 35 civilians, as well as 24 government troops and 29 insurgents. An official with the ultraconservative Ahrar Al Sham insurgent group said the government is trying to free fighters trapped in the military installation, but negotiations are at an early stage.

Syria's state media did not mention the trapped force but blamed insurgents for the violence saying they were firing shells into government-controlled areas killing at least one civilian.

The UN says government forces are holding nearly 400,000 people under siege in eastern Ghouta. The region was once a hotbed of protest against President Bashar Assad's government.

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