Al-Watan, a 16-page broadsheet, was launched at a reception party on Sunday night attended by journalists, diplomats and officials.


President Bashar al-Assad allowed private media in 2001, a year after he succeeded his late father Hafez al-Assad.


Al-Watan, has been the only political paper so far to be granted a licence, along with three established government dailies.


"This has been a dream. Syria has entered a new era and we have been in need of private media to reflect the people's will," publisher Wadah Abed Rabo said.


Rabo, who runs a leading publishing house, said al-Watan (Arabic for homeland) is independent and will adopt a "moderate" political line.


Page one of the first issue had a picture of Israeli students demanding peace talks with Syria.




Others in the industry expressed doubt that private Syrian media could be completely independent, considering close links between the business class and the government, controlled by the Baath Party since 1963.


"There is a real problem in decision-making in Syrian media. Just about everything has to be sanctioned by a higher political authority," said journalist Johnny Abbo.


One diplomat said: "Al-Watan represents a positive step. The identity of the newspaper's owners is murky but, this is the case of many newspapers in the region."


Around 80 private newspapers and magazines that mostly cover business, fashion and entertainment have hit the stands in the Arab world last few years.


Among the most successful was al-Domary, a satirical newspaper launched by renowned cartoonist Ali Farzat, which the Syrian authorities swiftly closed.