PHOTO: Syrian Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi with advisors
- Report: 100s Treated in East Ghouta With Food Poisoning
- Claimed Video: ISIS Truck Bomb That Killed 6 Jordanian Soldiers Near Border
- Battle Continues for Town in East Ghouta Near Damascus
- Kerry Meets State Department Staff Proposing New Syria Policy
UPDATE 1630 GMT: President Assad has dismissed the Government amid growing criticism of economic problems.
Assad asked Electricity Minister Imad Khamis to form a new Cabinet.
Under Syria’s new Constitution, the Cabinet was considered to have “resigned” upon the convening of a new Parliament, which met for the first time on June 6, and to hold a “caretaker role”.
Discontent has risen, including in pro-regime outlets, over the Government’s recent increase in gasoline and fuel prices.
The new Prime Minister Khamis was sanctioned by the European Union in March 2012 for “using power cuts as a method of repression”.
ORIGINAL ENTRY: The Assad regime has put out a careful admission of Syria’s economic crisis, through a brief statement on State media.
The SANA news agency said the Cabinet’s weekly session on Tuesday was devoted to “issues related to services and citizens’ living conditions”.
Prime Minister Wael al-Halqi justified the raising of prices on gasoline and other petroleum products, insisting that it was part of “carefully calculated economic policies”. He said “current conditions in the country” forced “unpopular decisions”.
Halqi maintained that an increase in compensation for living costs “should alleviate economic burdens on State workers”. He made no apparent reference to the situation of those who are not employed by the State.
Instead, he spoke of wider problems in the economy:
The state treasury was greatly depleted by the war on Syria, and the years of war and the economic embargo have drained resources and caused production to stall in many sectors.
The government no longer produces oil but buys it in foreign currency, and raising petroleum products has become a necessity in order to keep providing them.
The regime has lost up to 95% of oilfields and many areas of gas production, mainly to the Islamic State, in Syria’s five-year conflict. The energy crisis has added to other strains, with GDP falling about 16% per year. Losses were estimated at $237 billion by the end of 2015.
As a result, the Assad regime is dependent on outside assistance, particularly from its allies Iran and Russia.
Report: 100s Treated in East Ghouta With Food Poisoning
Medical staff in East Ghouta, near Damascus, said hundreds of people were treated on Monday night for food poisoning.
“People started coming in after night prayers,” said a doctor at the al-Marj clinic, located in the southern section of East Ghouta.
Clinic staff said 265 people, including 128 children, had stomach pain, vomiting, fever, hypotension, and diarrhea.
Local journalists have been reticent about the cause, amid rumors that a relief organization distributed spoiled food after cooking it in the morning and leaving it out until sunset, when the fast for the holy month of Ramadan was broken.
However, one correspondent said the food was handed out by Sa’ad, a charity administered by the leading rebel faction Jaish al-Islam.
Others would not speak for fear of detention by local security forces.
Children being treated in an East Ghouta clinic
Claimed Video: ISIS Truck Bomb That Killed 6 Jordanian Soldiers Near Border
Claimed footage of an Islamic State truck bomb on Tuesday that killed 6 Jordanian soldiers near a camp at the Syrian-Jordanian border:
— Conflict News (@Conflicts) June 22, 2016
Battle Continues for Town in East Ghouta Near Damascus
Fighting is continuing for the town of al-Bahariya in the East Ghouta area near Damascus.
The Syrian military and militias launched the assault on the town last week. The area is being defended by the rebel faction Jaish al-Islam.
The pro-Assad forces soon moved into Bahariya, with the Syrian military proclaimed it “liberated” on Tuesday.
However, Jaish al-Islam claims this morning that it has retaken the nearby strategic hill and several neighborhoods, capturing a T-72 tank and killing 22 troops.
Kerry Meets State Department Staff Proposing New Syria Policy
Secretary of State John Kerry has met eight of the 61 State Department staff who have called for a change in the Administration’s approach to the Assad regime.
In a “dissent channel cable”, leaked to the media last week, the 51 staff recommended military action and support of some rebel factions to put pressure on the regime and foster a negotiated political resolution to the conflict.
While White House officials have belittled the cable and said it would not alter President Obama’s position, Kerry has hailed it as “very good”.
Tuesday’s meeting lasted about 30 minutes. Participants said Kerry was careful to never explicitly agree with their critique, or to acknowledged his past arguments that President Assad will continue with bombing and sieges without negotiations backed by military pressure.
Instead, Kerry tested the analysis of the dissent cable, implying that the recommendation had been considered many times before but rejected because the situation was “more complicated” than presented in the memorandum, according to several people at the meeting.
Hours before the meeting, Vice President Joe Biden said in a televised interview that all the ideas had been reviewed long ago: “There is not a single, solitary recommendation that I saw that has a single, solitary answer attached to it — how to do what they’re talking about.”