The embattled Syrian president has tasked one of his ministers with forming a new government, casting doubts on the stalled peace talks. The UN's Syria envoy warned of escalating tensions on the ground blocking progress.
In a surprise move, President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday appointed former Electricity Minister Emad Khamis to form a new cabinet, Syrian state news agency SANA reported.
Khamis is set to replace current Prime Minister Wael al-Halaki, although no details were given in the report as to why the change was happening. The 54-year-old al-Halaki had held the post since August 2012.
The announcement comes two months after Assad's Baath party and its allies won the majority of seats in the country's parliament in an election that was decried internationally as a fraud.
The EU imposed sanctions against Khamis in March 2012, accusing the former electrical engineer of sharing culpability for violence committed against Syria's population.
A year after the outbreak of the war in 2011, Assad formed a new government under Prime Minister Riad Hijab, only for Hijab to flee soon afterwards to join the opposition.
Assad's appointment of Khamis casts further doubts on stalled UN-backed peace talks aimed at achieving a political end to the over five-year conflict.
"The window of opportunity is coming quickly to a close unless we maintain alive the cessation of hostilities, we increase humanitarian aid and we come to some common understanding of a political transition," said UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday.
"Then we can have, hopefully in July, inter-Syrian talks that are not about principles but about concrete steps to a political transition," he added.
But the UN's chief mediator in the Syria peace talks warned that they could not proceed "while hostilities are escalating and civilians are starving."
ls,blc/kl (Reuters, AFP)