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Syria names new defense minister

BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad replaced his defense minister Monday with the army chief of staff in the midst of a brutal military crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising, the state-run news agency said.

Gen. Ali Habib, the country's defense minister since 2009, was removed from his post because of health problems, the SANA report said, but some analysts said the general was unhappy with the crackdown.

He was replaced by Gen. Dawoud Rajha, a 64-year-old Christian, SANA said. The agency didn't say who will succeed Rajha as chief of staff.

His deputy is Maj. Gen. Assef Shawkat, who is married to Assad's sister, Bushra.

The army has played a leading role in the bloody crackdown, shelling cities with heavy weapons and tanks.

On Monday, the military renewed its assault on Deir el-Zour, unleashing artillery fire on the eastern town, a day after at least 42 people were killed there. And in the southern city of Daraa, security forces killed at least three people at a funeral, activists said.

Some analysts say that Habib, who belongs to Assad's ruling minority Alawite sect, was removed not because he was ill, but because he was uneasy with the crackdown.

Radwan Ziadeh, a Syrian scholar at George Washington University, said Habib lost his job because he has no links to the country's dreaded security agencies.

"Habib was not happy with the acts being carried out by the army," said Ziadeh. "Habib is a professional and respected officer in the army and he is a member of the Alawite sect."

Three gulf nations recall ambassadors

BEIRUT — Joining a chorus of global condemnation, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait on Monday recalled their ambassadors to the Syrian capital of Damascus in protest of President Bashar Assad's crackdown.

The withdrawal of ambassadors from the three oil-rich Gulf countries signified growing frustration in the region with the mounting death toll in Syria and underlined the unprecedented isolation of the government of Assad, who inherited power from his father, Hafez, in 2000.

Elsewhere

egypt: A new message posted online purportedly from al-Qaida in Iraq asks Sunni fighters who switched sides and joined forces with the U.S. and Iraqi government to return to the insurgent group, promising to forgive them and admitting that their departure had weakened the militants.

Yemen: The United States and Saudi Arabia pressured President Ali Abdullah Saleh to stay in Saudi Arabia after his hospital stay to treat wounds suffered in an assassination attempt, officials said Monday.

Iran: An Iranian lawmaker said the country's first nuclear power plant will not start up by late August as planned and blamed the delay on Russia, which is building the facility, local media reported Monday.

Libya: Rebels dissolved their executive committee in a move aimed at easing tensions over the recent killing of the opposition's military chief.

canada: Canada has ordered all remaining Libyan diplomats to leave the country within five days, officials say.

Syria names new defense minister 08/08/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 8, 2011 11:20pm]
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