Syria reshuffles top leadership; rebel ‘PM’ quits

AFP-JIJI

Syria’s ruling Baath Party has replaced its top leadership in a surprise move, while U.N. chief Ban Ki-Moon called on all parties in the war to observe a truce during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

In Turkey, meanwhile, interim prime minister for rebel-held territory, Ghassan Hitto, announced his resignation Monday on a day of political maneuvering.

The developments came as troops loyal to President Bashar Assad advanced into the rebel-held Khaldiyeh district of Homs on the 10th day of an assault there.

The Baath Party’s central committee published the names of 16 members of the new leadership, which included none of the party’s old chiefs with the exception of Assad, who will remain secretary-general.

The ruling party reshuffle was its first since 2005 and Assad urged the party to “develop” and work more closely with the people to help end the country’s 27-month war, state media said.

Among the incoming party leaders are parliament chief Jihad al-Laham and Prime Minister Wael Nader al-Halqi .

In New York, U.N. chief Ban was more concerned with the continued bloodshed, calling on all Syrian parties to observe a truce during Ramadan.

“I am calling for every military unit of the regular army and the Free Syrian Army, for every person holding a gun, to stop fighting and offer this month of peace as a collective present to their people,” he said. He added in his “Ramadan appeal” a call for the release of detainees.

Bassam Abu Abdullah, director of the Damascus Center for Strategic Studies, said the Baath Party overhaul was the result of deep-seated party discontent.

“There has been a lot of criticism from within the base towards the leadership, which has been accused of being inflexible, both before and since the crisis,” he said. A second analyst noted that the changes presaged a younger leadership that would be “more open to the international community.”

In Istanbul, as the main opposition Syrian National Coalition ended a five-day meeting, interim rebel premier Hitto announced his resignation — nearly four months after his appointment and after failing to form a government. Dissidents say Hitto, who is close to the opposition’s Islamist ranks and who was backed by Qatar, was unable to work because of divisions within the Coalition.