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Syria Live Coverage: Assad Changes His Ministers Amid Economic Crisis

See also Syria 1st-Hand: A "Sliver of Hope" in Non-Violent Civil Movements
Tunisia (and Beyond) Live Coverage: Prime Minister Threatens Resignation if New Cabinet Not Accepted
Saturday's Syria Live Coverage: The Fighting from Damascus to Idlib

1737 GMT: Iran's Lifeline to Assad. Egypt's Syrian Economic Task Force has said that ships belonging to Iranian oil companies, but disguised under different flags, are crossing through the Suez Canal with oil and sometimes weapons for Damascus.

At least two ships have been identified as belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and the National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC). One of the ships changed its flag four times --- including Malta, Bolivia, and Sierra-Leone --- and its name once in the last 11 months, and the SETF said it lacks proper certification.

1517 GMT: Damascus. Reports continue of fighting in southern Damascus, near the Jobar section and a vital highway running to Damascus International Highway.

Claimed footage of a regime tank firing from the highway:

1007 GMT: The Insurgency in Damascus. Aron Lund offers this provocative assessment on Syria Comment:

The current situation is that you have no strong Islamist alliance in the Damascus region, but several small ones, scattered all over the city map.

*The Syria Liberation Front, which in Damascus consists of Liwa el-Islam and its allies.
*The Syrian Islamic Front, which is Kataeb Hamza and its allies, most notably the Damascus-region affiliates of Ahrar al-Sham.
*Tajammou Ansar al-Islam, which is Kataeb el-Sahaba, Liwa el-Furqan, Liwa Ahfad el-Rasoul, and some others.
*Jabhat al-Nusra.
*Jabhat el-Asala wal-Tanmiya (“The Authenticity & Growth Front”), which is a smaller pseudo-Salafi alliance.
*Groups loyal to the Muslim Brotherhood.
*Plus a whole bunch of smaller, indepdendent Islamist factions.

And then of course, there are lots of non-Islamist groups, which don’t appear to be much better organized.

In other words: the Damascus insurgency is growing and will eventually overpower the prevailing order, but organizationally, it’s a total mess. These movements all seem to be cooperating pretty well on the ground – rebel infighting is surprisingly rare in Syria so far, which I think is one of few encouraging signs. But they are likely to become more competitive as time passes, resources become scarce, and the power vacuum grows. In Aleppo it’s already turning into a battle for the spoils, and when the local regime forces are forced out entirely, we’re likely to see some serious turf wars.

0657 GMT: Cabinet Reshuffle. In a brief announcement on Saturday, President Assad changed seven Ministers --- Oil, Finance, Social Affairs, Labor, Housing, Public Works, and Agriculture --- amid Syria's serious economic situation.

It is unclear how the new personnel, plus Assad's re-organisation of the Social Affairs and Labor Ministries, can check the gathering crisis. The 23-month conflict has cost the country $48.4 billion, 82% of Syria's GDP in 2012. Last year, GDP fell 24%, and it is projected to decline 60% if there is no resolution to the uprising against the regime.

More than 700,000 Syrians have fled the country --- almost all of them in the last year --- and hundreds of thousands have been internally displaced. An estimated 2.5 million Syrians still inside the country are estimated to need urgent aid.

Meanwhile, as fighting continued in and near Damascus with the regime's steady bombardment of insurgent-held suburbs, the Local Coordination Committees reported 169 people killed on Saturday, including 14 children and 10 women. There were 60 deaths in Aleppo Province and 57 in Damascus and its suburbs.

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