President Assad appoints Wael al-Halqi as Premier

Syrian forces — after a sustained assault — appeared to have dislodged armed opposition fighters from a deeply entrenched stronghold in Aleppo at a time when the regime of President Bashar Al Assad — bolstered by fresh pledges of support from Iran — appointed a new Prime Minister.

On Thursday, the Free Syrian Army (FSA), backed by Syria’s foes —Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar —acknowledged that it had pulled out of Aleppo’s Salaheddin neighbourhood. “We have staged a tactical withdrawal from Salaheddin,” AFP quoted Hossam Abu Mohammed, an opposition commander as saying.

“The district is completely empty of rebel fighters. Regime forces are now advancing into Salaheddin.”

Another FSA commander confirmed the pull-out. “The FSA’s brigades have staged a tactical withdrawal from Salaheddin in order to open a new front in Saif al-Dawla and Mashhad,” said Wassel Ayub, the commander of the Nur al-Haq Brigade.

“We had full control of the district last night, but then regime forces bombarded in an unprecedented way,” Mr. Ayub said. "The situation is terrible, and we have decided to stage a tactical withdrawal.”

The ouster of anti-regime forces from Salaheddin neighbourhood marks a major success for government forces, which have been battling militants in this area for over two weeks. Analysts point out that the opposition has been trying to establish control over Aleppo, so that the city can then play a role in Syria — similar to the one that Benghazi had performed for mounting a regime-change military campaign in Libya.

Coinciding with the advance of Syrian forces in Aleppo, President Assad announced appointment of Wael al-Halqi as the country’s new Prime Minister, State television reported.

“The president has signed Decree 298, appointing Wael al-Halqi as the new Prime Minister,” the broadcaster reported. A new appointment had become necessary to fill the breach left by Riad Hijab, twho had defected.

Mr. Hijab was is now in Jordan with his family, said Jordanian information Minister Samih Maayatah.

The prime ministerial appointment took place soon after the head of Iran’s National Security Council, Saeed Jalili — who was in Damascus, apparently to express solidarity with the regime — left Syria. With Syria as the focus, Mr. Jalili also met leader of Hizbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, a key ally of Syrian regime.

He also visited Iraq, a country whose ties with neighbouring Turkey — the frontline state facing off Syria — have sharply deteriorated recently. Baghdad has been miffed with Turkey, after its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu visited Iraqi Kurdistan, without clearing the visit first with the government of Iraq.

Earlier, Iran had stepped in to warn Turkey not to harbour designs of attacking Syria. “Any attack on Syrian territory will meet with a harsh response, and the Iranian-Syrian mutual defence agreement will be activated,” the Syrian pro-government Al-Watan newspaper reported.

The Syrian-Turkish relationship appears to have hit rock bottom after the bombing of the security bureau last month in Damascus, which killed four top Syrian security officials. Turkish media has been reporting that the Syrian government has recently struck a deal with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Syria, which allows them freedom to run their own affairs and mount a cross-border insurgency campaign against Turkey.

Tensions are running high as the Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that it is a “given” that Turkish troops would chase fleeing PKK militants inside Syria.

Al-Watan is reporting that Turkey is using the threat from the PKK as a pretext to intervene in Syria. “Ankara is preparing an agreement with Washington to intervene militarily in the Syrian [crisis], using the Kurdish card as an excuse,” the paper said.

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