Syrian president Assad appoints Wael Nader al-Halq as new PM


Syrian President Bashar Assad has appointed a new prime minister to replace one who defected this week to neighbouring Jordan.

Mr Assad appointed Wael Nader al-Halqi, elevating him from the post of health minister, according to state-run news agency SANA.

Mr Halqi is a member of Mr Assad's ruling Baath party and hails from the southern city of Daraa, birthplace of the Syrian uprising.

The 48-year-old held the post of secretary general of the Daraa branch of the Baath party from 2000-2004. He was appointed head of the doctors' syndicate in 2010.

The former premier, Riad Hijab, completed his defection by crossing into Jordan yesterday. His defection was a humiliating blow for Mr Assad's regime.

Activists say clashes between Syrian government troops and rebels are raging in the opposition bastion of Saleheddine and other districts of the besieged city of Aleppo.

The fighting comes just a day after President Bashar Assad's regime claimed in state-run media that its forces have fully regained control of Salaheddine.

The Local Co-ordination Committees and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said today's shelling was most focused on Salaheddine, as well as a north-east district and areas in the city's south-west.

Syria launched a ground assault yesterday on rebel-held areas of Aleppo, the country's largest city and key commercial hub.

The regime's blistering attacks on rebel positions in recent weeks seem to have chipped away at the opposition's grip on its strongholds in the city.

Meanwhile Russia's foreign ministry says Moscow will attend talks on the Syrian crisis organised by Iran.

The ministry says that Russia will be represented by its ambassador in Tehran if the talks set for today take place. It said the meeting was called at short notice, leaving little time to prepare.

Russia in the past has urged the West to allow Tehran to take part in international discussions on how to settle the crisis, arguing that the Islamic republic could play an important role.

Russia has been the main protector and ally of President Assad's regime, shielding it from the United Nations sanctions over its brutal crackdown on an uprising that evolved into a full-blown civil war.