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Embattled Syrian President Replaces Defense Minister

Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has replaced his defense minister with his chief of staff, General Daoud Rajha.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 8/8/2011, 10:45 PM

Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has replaced his defense minister with his chief of staff, General Daoud Rajha.

The now-former Defense Minister, Ali Habib, was targeted earlier this month by the European Union as part of the government that has brutalized Syrian citizens for nearly half a year. The EU has imposed sanctions against Habib for his part in the crackdown on unarmed civilians.

Western nations had already imposed sanctions against the Syrian president, his family and other top government officials several months ago.

Arab leaders meanwhile have continued to condemn the violence by government forces against protesters.

Grand Imam Ahmed el-Tayeb, head of the al-Azhar University in Cairo, called the bloodshed a “human tragedy that cannot be accepted.”

In a statement to the Egyptian state news agency MENA, El-Tayeb added that the university owes it to the Syrian people to “clearly announce matters have gone beyond the limit... Blood was shed, families were split up... and unarmed people are being fought with live ammunition, iron and fire,” he pointed out.

Al-Azhar serves also as a clerical entity, and has been the seat of Sunni academia since the Middle Ages.

An additional statement by Saudi Arabia was prompted by an especially murderous attack by Assad's tanks on the country's Sunni population in Deir al-Zour on Monday, according to local residents. Last weekend Syrian government forces invaded and attacked the city of Homs, killing and wounding hundreds of protesters calling for the president's ouster.

King Abdullah recalled the Saudi ambassador from Damascus, the Syrian capital, and warned Assad the bloodshed must end. Within hours, the ambassadors of Bahrain and Kuwait were recalled as well, further isolating Assad within the Arab fold.