Syria’s New Government: Optimism Amid Escalating Tension

International Tension Jeopardizes “Remarkable” Step Towards National Unity


DAMASCUS, June 24 — Despite optimism among Syria’s politicians about the newly formed government as a means to find an exit for the country’s crisis and a step toward a national unity government, prospects for the new move seem slim as the 16- month-old crisis has veered toward more international tension after the recent dispute with Turkey.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad ordered Saturday a major cabinet shake-up, bringing in 20 new ministers but keeping three major portfolios unchanged, namely, the ministers of defense, foreign affairs and interior.

The cabinet reshuffle came in light of the new constitution and after the election of a new parliament, a move that aimed at stemming the congestion in the country.

Syria’s state-run SANA news agency said new Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab has announced the naming of his new cabinet that has brought in 20 new ministers and founded three new ministries, namely, the ministry of national reconciliation affairs, the ministry of domestic trade and the ministry of water resources.

The new cabinet combined two opposition figures, Ali Haidar, member of the People’s Will Party, who took the post of minister of national reconciliation, and Qadri Jamil, the head of the People’s Will Party who was also named as the minister of the domestic trade.

The presence of opposition figures in the new government was deemed by many observers as a step in the right way.

After winning a post in the new government, Qadri Jamil said in a number of interviews with the Syrian media that the presence of opposition in the government is “an exceptional event” resulted by the challenges the country has been facing.

Jamil, who has also won a seat in the Syrian parliament, said the new cabinet represents a glimmer of hope for Syria to come out of the crisis safely.

Jamil stressed the importance of moving forward towards forming a national unity government, saying the recent government is “a crisis-solving or an emergency government” suitable for the time being in order to hammer out an exit to the crisis.

He noted that the current circumstances didn’t allow this government to be a national unity one, hinting that the new government should represent wider spectra of the society.

For his side, Ali Haidar, who took the ministry of national reconciliation, stressed that the new government is a step toward achieving a forthcoming national unity government.

He said the government could have involved wider representations.

Meanwhile, George Gabbou, a political analyst and an ex- parliamentarian, told Xinhua that having opponents in the government is “remarkable,” hoping that the new government would be conducive in leapfrogging the obstacles and the hurdles facing the countries in these fateful moments.

Gabbour noted that the most important ministry is the ministry of national reconciliation given its importance in crafting a suitable solution.

While the Syrian administration is showing resolve to undertake an inside enhancements in a bid to implement promised reforms, a new development has surfaced lately to face the formation of the new government aside from the simmering, ongoing violence.

On Friday, the Syrian areal defense system downed a Turkish warplane near the coastal city of Latakia in northern Syria, further flaming the already ailing relations between the two countries and triggering NATO ambassadors to discuss a possible response later this week.

A Syrian military spokesman said a Turkish fighter jet had penetrated the Syrian airspace earlier on Friday and it was shot down by Syrian army with anti-aviation artillery, adding it was dealt with in accordance to the laws observed in similar situations.

However, Turkey on Sunday said the fighter jet was shot down by Syria in international airspace, not in the Syrian territorial waters.

“Our plane shortly violated Syrian airspace, but not when it was shot down,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu, adding that Syria had not issued a warning to Turkey before the shooting.

Syria insisted the plane penetrated its airfield and its foreign ministry spokesman, Jihad Makdissi, said his country has no hostile intentions towards Turkey.

Observers and experts believed that Turkey has deliberately sent its fighter jet, in a bid to push for a Syrian response to later ignite a possible military showdown, which has long been covertly desired by the superpowers, but was off the table and blocked by Syria’s powerful allies in the UN Security Council, such as Russia.

After the incident, Turkish President Abdullah Gul vowed his country will do whatever is required to respond to the plane downing, adding that the incident is not possible to ignore.

Turkey has requested the NATO’s governing body to convene Tuesday to discuss the incident, according to Oana Lungescu, a NATO spokesperson.

The consultations were called under article 4 of NATO’s founding treaty that reads: The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened.

Turkey has previously raised the possibility of invoking NATO in its defense after Syrian forces fired over the Turkish border.

The Syrian opposition abroad has long called for a military operation in Syria similar to the one that helped toppling the Libyan regime of Muammar Gaddafi last year, but the United States and its European allies have shown little appetite for such intervention given the complexity of the Syrian situation and the repercussions it might drag, particularly on Israel.

Syria’s powerful regional allies with Iran and the Lebanese Hezbollah, along with its international ones, such as Russia, have greatly contributed in restraining the superpowers from considering a military offensive on Syria.

However, with the new development in hand, a military showdown seems gaining more momentum, casting fears and uncertainty on the next stage.


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