Rumors Surround Syria’s Defense Minister

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DAMASCUS, Syria, Aug. 9 (UPI) — Syrian President Bashar Assad swore in Gen. Dawood Rajiha as the country’s defense minister Tuesday, the state news agency said.

The official Syrian Arab News Agency reports Assad received Rajiha, a Christian, as the new defense minister “and provided him with his directives.”

The announcement followed reports that former Defense Minister Gen. Ali Habib was found dead in his home Tuesday. SANA noted only that Habib “has been ill for some time, and his health condition deteriorated recently.”

“Habib was advancing in age and was experiencing health problems but there are reasons to suspect that he may have been assassinated by elements within the Assad regime,” an analysis from Texas intelligence company Stratfor reads.

The analysis notes that Habib had disagreed with Assad’s regime over the use of force against protesters. Assad has faced mounting international condemnation over the use of military force against people demonstrating against his regime.

The U.N. Security Council issued a statement last week denouncing the violence in Syria.

SANA added that an unidentified military source reported that army units are pulling out of the city of Hama after “completing their mission.”

Opposition figures speaking with The New York Times said during the weekend the government has handed over responsibility to security forces in the country. Activists said at least 200 civilians were killed in a weekend military offensive in Hama.

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