Amidst a spiraling wave of protests against his repressive regime, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has formed a new government under Adel Safar, the recently-appointed Prime Minister.
The prior government under ex-prime minister Naji al-Otari resigned in late March 29.
Safar was agriculture minister under the Otari administration.
In addition. Reuters reported, intelligence official Ibrahim al-Shaar was named interior minister and Mohammad al-Jililati, head of the Damascus Stock Exchange, was appointed finance minister. Walid al-Moualem remains as foreign minister
Assad has also issued an order to release all prisoners except those with criminal records.
Meanwhile, Assad, who has blamed the protests on foreign conspirators and armed gangs of hoodlums, appears to be cracking down harder on dissent, while making minor cosmetic concessions to demonstrators who are demanding democratic reforms.
Hundreds of people have already died in the demonstrations and many hundreds more have been detained by state security forces,
The violence seems to continue without abatement.
State-controlled media reported that snipers shot and killed a soldier who were on patrol in the northwestern coastal city of Baniyas, the site of prior violence disturbances. Syrian military has reportedly entered and sealed off the city.
There was a deal on Wednesday between Syrian officials and city residents for the army to enter Baniyas imminently to restore order, Rami Abdel Rahman, president of Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), told Agence France Presse.
Security agents will refrain from patrolling neighborhoods to make arrests, and the hundreds of people arrested in Banyias will be released.”
The government has blamed the recent violence in Baniyas on “armed gangs.”
An Al Jazeera correspondent spoke to an eyewitness who described an unexpectedly cheerful scene in Baniyas when the army entered the town.
People were chanting ‘the people and the army are one’, they were throwing rice at them, they were welcoming and celebrating their arrival. The scene there is of a calming tension not escalation, she said. The residence of the town have been fearing these gunmen, four residence have been killed, one soldier killed today and another one injured. According to the government two days ago nine soldiers were gunned down. So it is a highly volatile situation that the government is trying to contain and it seems like the Baniyas people are cooperating and engaging the government’s efforts.
Separately, in the capitol of Damascus, Assad himself met with a delegation from the southern city of Deraa, which has also been the site of anti-government protests.
Speaking to some of the Deraa representatives, Al Jazeera reported: “They said that the meeting went well. But they won't elaborate on whether a deal has been reached. It seems like there are some fine details that need to be worked out. Some of their demands are specific to Deraa and others are to do with the rest of Syria [such as] more political freedom, the right to have peaceful protests and the release of all the prisoners that have been detained in the past three months.”
The correspondent added: What the government wants is an end to the protests, and even if it acknowledges their right to protest it should be done peacefully. The government want to put a stop to vandalism and attacks to public property. It seems from the people in Deraa that the government is seriously trying to contain [the situation in] Deraa because that is where it all started. If they manage to calm the situation in Deraa, the government believes it will be able to contain the situation throughout Syria.