Assad reshuffles Syria’s Cabinet amid harsh economic crisis

Damascus (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad replaced several Cabinet ministers Wednesday amid a sharp increase in prices and worsening economic conditions during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, state media reported.

The state news agency said Assad replaced the ministers of oil, internal trade, industry and social affairs and labor. SANA did not give a reason for the government reshuffle, but it comes amid harsh public criticism over rising prices and food shortages during Ramadan, when observant Muslims abstain from eating and drinking from dawn to dusk.

Syria’s economy hit its lowest point this year since the start of the conflict in 2011, with spiraling inflation, a currency plunge and sharp increase in food prices.

It’s the result of years of war, Western sanctions, widespread corruption and a three-year economic meltdown in neighboring Lebanon.

After a Feb. 6, earthquake hit Turkey and Syria and killed more than 50,000 people, including 6,000 in Syria, Damascus’ ties with some Arab countries improved somewhat with aid from around the region flowing into the war-torn country.

Syria hopes that an improvement of relations with oil-rich Gulf Arab nations, that once supported the Syrian armed opposition, will help ease the economic crisis.

Last week, state Saudi television reported that the kingdom is in talks with Syria to reopen its embassy in the war-torn nation for the first time in a decade. Other Arab nations in the Persian Gulf, including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, reopened their embassies in Damascus in recent years.