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The Latest: State media says Syrian president reshuffles gov

January 1, 2018

BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on developments in Syria (all times local):

5:15 p.m.

Syria’s state news agency SANA says President Bashar Assad has reshuffled his government replacing the ministers of defense, information and industry.

SANA did not give a reason for the government reshuffle that comes at a time when Assad’s forces have been gaining ground over the past two years under the cover of Russian airstrikes and with the help of Iran-backed fighters.

It said army commander Gen. Ali Ayoub has been named defense minister replacing Fahd Jassem al-Freij who had held the post since 2012.

The agency added that Imad Sarah has been named information minister while Mohammed Youssef was chosen as the new minister of industry

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2:20 p.m.

Syrian opposition activists are reporting heavy clashes between government forces and insurgents east of Damascus, and at least a dozen airstrikes.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syria-based activist Mazen al-Shami said Monday’s fighting was concentrated inside a military installation near the suburb of Harasta, where a government force has been trapped for a day.

The Observatory said the Syrian air force conducted at least a dozen airstrikes on Harasta and nearby suburbs. Al-Shami reported dozens of airstrikes. He said the government brought in reinforcements overnight and is trying to reach the trapped force.

The Observatory said three days of violence in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta has killed 35 civilians, as well as 24 government troops and 29 insurgents.

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