Syria implements defense reshuffle

News comes as the United States State Department plans to send a delegation to Syria. [The Media Line]

Bashar Assad 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
Bashar Assad 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
In a major reorganization of the defense establishment, Syrian President Basher Assad has promoted the Syrian commander-in-chief, Lt.-Gen. Hassan Ali Tourkomani, to assistant vice president. Lt.-Gen Ali Habib Mahmoud, who currently serves as chief of staff, has been appointed minister of defense. Mahmoud succeeded Tourkomani as chief of staff in 2004 when Tourkomani was appointed commander-in-chief. This is the second cabinet reorganization in Damascus since April, when Assad appointed six new ministers, among them a new interior minister and environment minister, the official Syrian news agency SANA reported. The news comes as the United States State Department plans to send a delegation to Syria in the upcoming days, according to State Department press secretary, P.J. Crowley. "We are trying to improve our communication between the United States and Syria," Crowley said during a press briefing. "I think they talked primarily about the possibility of upcoming travel to Syria," Crowley said in reference to a question regarding the phone conversations between US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Syrian Foreign Minster Walid Moallem on Sunday evening. Crowley did not elaborate on whether or not Senator George Mitchell, US President Barack Obama's special envoy to the Middle East, would travel to Syria when he travels to Israel and the Palestinian Authority next week for talks with local leaders. Washington has not had an ambassador in Damascus since Margaret Scobey was withdrawn following the assassination of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Al-Hariri in February 2005. Many Western countries have accused Syria of being behind the assassination and have withdrawn their ambassadors from Syria. In May 2009, Obama renewed US sanctions against Syria that were initiated following the Al-Hariri assassination. There are currently three types of sanctions by the US government, the most comprehensive of which is the Syria Accountability Act which prohibits the export of most goods containing more than 10 percent US-manufactured component parts to Syria. A second sanction, resulting from the American Patriot Act, was aimed specifically against the Commercial Bank of Syria in 2006. The third type of sanction specifically denies certain Syrian citizens and entities access to the US financial system due to their participation in proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, association with al-Qaida, the Taliban or Osama bin Laden, or in destabilizing activities in Iraq and Lebanon.