Assad Names New Syrian PM, Army Battles Rebels

The appointment of Riyad Hijab, agriculture minister in the out-going government, as prime minister follows a parliamentary election last month which authorities said was a step towards political reform but which opponents dismissed as a sham.

“We expected Assad to play a game and appoint a nominal independent but he chose a hardcore Baathist,” said opposition campaigner Najati Tayyara. The new government, like its predecessors, would wield no real power, he added.

“The cabinet is just for show in Syria and even more so now, with the security apparatus totally taking over.”

Activists said soldiers backed by helicopters and tanks fought rebels in the coastal province of Latakia for a second day on Wednesday, in the heaviest clashes there since the revolt against Assad erupted in March last year.

The relentless violence has shredded an eight-week-old ceasefire deal brokered by former United Nations chief Kofi Annan. Rebels, who say they are no longer bound by the accord, have killed more than 100 soldiers this week, according to one monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Russia called for a broad international meeting, including regional powers Turkey and Iran, the Arab League, European Union and permanent U.N. Security Council members, to rescue Annan’s plan, but the United States gave the idea short shrift.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has accused Iran of supporting pro-Assad militias, said it was “a little hard to imagine inviting a country that is stage-managing the Assad regime’s assault on its people”. Reuters