Syrian cabinet reshuffled amid more violence

President Bashar al-Assad appoints seven new ministers, in a move that appears aimed at trying to shore up the economy.

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has reshuffled his Cabinet, appointing seven new ministers, as violence continues around the capital and in the province of Homs.

    State TV said on Saturday that Assad replaced the heads of the oil, finance, social affairs, labour, housing, public works and agriculture ministries, in a move that appeared aimed at trying to shore up the economy.

    Key security ministries such as defence and interior, which are on the front lines of the conflict, remained unchanged.

    And in what appeared to be its first official response, the Syrian government has extended an invitation to the opposition for dialogue.

    "I invite all opposition forces inside Syria...and all armed fighters who lay down their weapons to join the process of dialogue," said Omran al-Zoubi, Syria's information minister.

    "They will be partners in achieving a political solution to the crisis," al-Zoubi said. 

    Syria's economy has been devastated by the conflict, which has left major cities in ruins and gutted the nation's industries. Power outages are common and Syrians in some areas must stand in hours-long lines for bread and gasoline.

    Ongoing battles

    The latest development came as government warplanes launched airstrikes around Damascus, as clashes raged between Assad forces and rebel fighters.

    Air raids were reported in the town of Zamalka to the east, Douma to the northeast, and  there were multiple strikes on the Eastern Ghuta region that runs along the  eastern belt of the capital.

    Warplanes also raided the town of Sabineh just south of Damascus, alongside the highway that leads to Daraa province and the town of Moadamiyet al-Sham to the southwest.

    Fierce clashes broke out between rebels and troops in the embattled town of Daraya, as the army shelled insurgent positions there, activists said.

    The latest clashes come after the army's launch this week of a major offensive against rebel zones surrounding the capital, in efforts to break a stalemate in the two-year uprising against President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

    Regime forces are battling to retake control of an 8km belt around the heavily guarded capital. While opposition fighters have seen gains across parts of the country, they have so far been kept away from the centre of Damascus.

    Pro-regime newspaper Al-Watan said the army was "determined to crush terrorism around the capital and in big cities".

    Elsewhere on Saturday, Ziad al-Zhouri, 11, was killed in shelling on the town of al-Qusair in the central province of Homs. His father, Ibrahim, was also killed in government shelling on the town in October 2012.

    Meanwhile, at least four fighters were reported killed in clashes with regime forces in the village of Kafar Aya, on the outskirts of Homs city. Activists on Saturday told Al Jazeera that the rebel-held village was being bombarded constantly as regime forces tried to regain control of the area.

    In the town of Rastan in Homs province, two men and a woman were reported killed in heavy bombardment by regime forces. One other was killed in bombardment on the town of Talbeeseh.

    Violence in the country shows no sign of abating since the uprising against Assad began in March 2011. The UN estimates that more than 60,000 people have killed over the past two years.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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