Assad tasks new PM with reoganizing govt

June 6, 2012 at 8:05 AM
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DAMASCUS, Syria, June 6 (UPI) -- Syrian President Bashar Assad tapped Agriculture Minister Riyad Farid Hijab as prime minister, tasking him with forming a new administration Wednesday.

The appointment came after the Syrian Foreign Ministry said Tuesday more than a dozen Western diplomatic missions were no longer welcome in a tit-for-tat response to last week's expulsion of Syrian diplomats from the United States and 10 other nations, The New York Times reported.

Meanwhile, the Syrian Network for Human Rights and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies said Wednesday they have documented four deaths, including a pregnant woman, in several Syrian cities.

Syria has been caught up in protests, violence and death between pro-democracy supporters and regime forces since March 2011. Bashar's government has been condemned internationally for its violent efforts to quell protests.

Syria also agreed to allow international relief agencies to increase their numbers and deliver aid to an estimated million people in Daraa, Homs, Idlib and Deir al-Zour, all scenes of some of the heaviest and bloodiest fighting in the 15-month-old uprising.

"Whether this is a breakthrough or not will be apparent in the next few days," John Ging, director of operations for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told the Times. "Freedom of movement, unimpeded access for humanitarian action within Syria is what it's all about now. The good faith of the Syrian government will be tested today, tomorrow and every day."

The government restructuring comes after the May 7 parliamentary elections that opposition groups boycotted.

During meetings Tuesday in Beijing, Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russia President Vladimir Putin urged continued support of a peace plan negotiated by U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan "to promote a political solution to the problem in Syria," the Times said.

Russia and China are trade partners with Syria and have blocked U.N. Security Council efforts to forcefully respond to Bashar's actions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, also in Beijing, said countries having influence on the Syrian opposition should meet to outline measures that support the Annan peace plan, RIA Novosti reported.

"We would consider it necessary to hold a meeting with the states that really influence various opposition forces in Syria. There are not so many of them -- the U.N. Security Council's permanent members, leading countries in the region, Turkey, Iran, the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation," Lavrov said, adding the European Union also could participate.

Annan is to brief the Security Council Thursday on the plan to increase the presence of humanitarian workers, the Times said. Under terms of the agreement, the Syrian government will facilitate visas for relief personnel and customs clearance for supplies coming into Syria. The government also will allow relief agencies that previously were limited to an operating base in Damascus to set up field offices in Homs, Idlib, Daraa and Deir al-Zour.

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