Syrian president reshuffles Cabinet

Syrian President Bashar Assad reshuffled his Cabinet on Saturday, appointing seven new ministers in a move that appeared aimed at trying to shore up an economy that has been ravaged by the country's 2-year-old revolt, state media said.

State TV said Assad replaced the heads of the oil, finance, social affairs, labour, housing, public works and agriculture ministries. Key security ministries such as defence and interior, which are on the front lines of the civil war, remained unchanged.

Syria's economy has been devastated by the civil war, which has left major cities in ruins and gutted the nation's industries. Power outages are common and Syrians in some areas must stand in hours-long lines for bread and gasoline.

The reshuffle took place as fighting in Damascus and its suburbs raged for a fourth consecutive day, with clashes focused in southern and northeastern neighbourhoods of the capital.

Rebels brought their fight within a mile of the heart of Damascus on Friday, seizing army checkpoints and cutting a key highway with a row of burning tires as they pressed their campaign for the city, the seat of Assad's power.

Both the rebels and the government consider the fight for Damascus the most likely endgame in a civil war that has already killed more than 60,000. The regime controls movement in and out of the heavily defended city with a network of checkpoints, and rebels have failed so far to make significant inroads and hold them.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported intense air raids on several Damascus suburbs on Saturday, including Zamalka and Douma, and near a major highway that leads to the capital. It added that troops shelled the northeastern neighbourhoods of Jobar and Qaboun that have witnessed fighting and shelling since Thursday.

A resident who lives near Jobar said he fled with his family Friday afternoon to a safer area close to central Damascus because of the intensity of the fighting.

"It was a bad day. We heard lots of explosions," he said speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

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