Al Assad names new defence, other ministers

Battles continue on two fronts in Syria as another violent year ends

14:54 January 1, 2018

BEIRUT: Bashar Al Assad yesterday issued a decree appointing new ministers for defence, industry and information, state television reported.

He appointed General Ali Abdullah Ayoub as defence minister, Mohammad Mazen Ali Yousuf as industry minister and Imad Abullah Sarah as information minister, state television reported, citing the decree.

Meanwhile, regime forces battled with rebels and Al Qaida militants on two fronts in Syria on Sunday as the country prepared to close out another violent year since it descended into civil war in 2011.

Rebels supported by an Al Qaida-linked cell renewed their assault against pro-regime forces that have been holding a vast pocket of the Damascus suburbs under siege, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. A second front between many of the same groups saw fresh fighting in northwest Syria, along the border between Idlib and Hama provinces, according to the Observatory and Syrian military media.

The fighting outside Damascus was concentrated around the contested town of Harasta and a nearby military installation. The insurgents flanked the installation on Sunday, trapping an unknown number of pro-government forces inside, reported the Observatory. The local, activist-run Ghouta Media Centre reported fierce clashes and dense government air strikes.

Twenty-one soldiers and 26 rebels and Al Qaida fighters were killed in two days of clashes, according to the Observatory’s director, Rami Abdul Rahman.

Rebels first attacked the installation seven weeks ago. The regime responded with waves of indiscriminate air strikes and artillery attacks that killed more than 250 civilians in what are called the eastern Ghouta suburbs of Damascus, which are still under rebel control.

The Syrian Civil Defence search-and-rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, said shelling and rocket fire killed 19 people in eastern Ghouta on Saturday, a day after medical evacuations were completed to save the lives of 29 others.