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Assad tells electricity minister to form new Syria government

BEIRUT (Reuters) - President Bashar al-Assad instructed Electricity Minister Emad Khamis on Wednesday to form a new government in Syria, a country fragmented by warring factions and economically ruined by five years of conflict.

Syria's president Bashar al-Assad speaks to Parliament members in Damascus, Syria in this handout picture provided by SANA on June 7, 2016. SANA/Handout via

A decree published by state news agency SANA gave no reason for replacing Wael al-Halaki, who served as prime minister for nearly four years and survived an assassination attempt when a car bomb struck his convoy in Damascus in 2013.

Halaki was himself appointed to replace a prime minister who defected and later led an opposition team at peace talks in Geneva, which broke down in April as pro-government forces pressed an offensive against rebel-held areas of Aleppo city.

The Damascus-based government controls most of the war-torn country’s major population centres in the west, with the exceptions of Idlib, which is held by insurgents, and the rebel-held neighbourhoods of Aleppo, once Syria’s biggest city.

Kurdish forces control vast areas along the Turkish border, and Islamic State holds Raqqa and Deir al-Zor provinces in the east.

International efforts to bring peace to the country focus on forming a transitional governing body which can include members of the current administration and the opposition.

Assad and his ally Russia have suggested incorporating parts of the opposition into the government as a step towards a political settlement to the war which has killed more than 250,000 people and driven 11 million from their homes.

Washington and Syrian rebels, who insist that any peace deal must involve Assad’s departure, have dismissed the idea.

An engineer by training, 54-year-old Khamis has been electricity minister since 2011, SANA said. Before that he was general manager of the state’s electricity distribution body. He has been a member of Assad’s Baath political party since 1977.

Syria’s conflict, which began as a peaceful uprising against Assad, is now in its sixth year.

Assad formed a new government more than a year into the war in 2012, but the prime minister he appointed then, Riad Hijab, fled Syria soon afterwards to join the opposition.

The conflict has also cost the country more than $200 billion in economic losses and physical damage to infrastructure, driving Syria’s GDP down to less than half its 2011 level.

It has also caused the Syrian pound to lose more than 90 percent of its value despite concerted attempts by Halaki’s government to support the currency.

Reporting by John Davison and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Dominic Evans