Syria's Ruling Party Chooses New Leadership amid Civil War; Opposition Leader Resigns, Citing Problems Forming Government

Article excerpt

BEIRUT * Syria's ruling Baath party elected a new regional command Monday to replace its aging leadership, including the country's longtime vice president, as government forces closed in on a key rebel-held neighborhood in central Syria.

In a further blow to the opposition fighting to topple President Bashar Assad, opposition prime minister Ghassan Hitto resigned from his post, citing his inability to form an interim government.

Both symbolic developments came during a spike in violence in the central Syrian city of Homs, where government forces began an offensive 10 days ago to recapture opposition-held districts.

Syria's state-run television said the new Baath Party command, which is the party's top decision-making body, was chosen during a meeting of the party's central committee.

A senior Baath Party official, Fayez Sayegh, said the reshuffle was meant to pump in new blood in the party. He said longtime Syrian Vice President Farouk al-Sharaa was among those replaced.

Al-Sharaa, 73, is a close associate and longtime loyalist to the Assad family.

Syria's Baath party has been ruling Syria since 1963. The meeting was scheduled to take place earlier but was postponed because of the violence engulfing the country.

Hitto was little known before he was appointed in March by the Western-backed Syrian National Council opposition group to head an interim government to administer areas seized by the rebels fighting to topple Assad.

In a statement issued Monday, he said he was stepping down "for the general good of the Syrian revolution."

Hitto is mistrusted by other opposition members who dislike his perceived proximity to the Qatari-backed Muslim Brotherhood. …