Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said on Tuesday that his country, in the grips of an anti-regime uprising now in its 16th month, is in a “real state of war.”
“We are witnessing a real state of war,” state news agency SANA quoted him as telling a meeting of the new Syrian cabinet.
But Assad insisted that “when one is in a state of war, all our policies and capabilities must be used to secure victory.”
His remarks came as the United States on Tuesday said that a “desperate” Assad was slowly losing his grip on power, citing recent defections of army officers and soldiers to neighboring Turkey and Jordan.
“Clearly, Bashar al-Assad has been slowly -- too slowly -- losing his grip over his country,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
Syria has been hit by deadly violence that has claimed more than 15,000 lives, monitors say, since an uprising erupted in March 2011 against Assad’s regime.
At least 92 people have been killed across the country on Tuesday by security force gunfire, Al Arabiya reported citing Local Coordinating Committees in Syria.
“Violent clashes are taking place around positions of the Republican Guard in Qudsaya and al-Hama,” eight kilometers (five miles) from central Damascus, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel Rahman, told AFP news agency.
Twenty-eight people were killed in and around the capital, including 15 people in al-Hama and 11 in Qudsaya during shelling by regime troops.
“This is the first time that the regime uses artillery in fighting so close to the capital,” Abdel Rahman said.
“This development is important because it’s the heaviest fighting in the area and close to the heart of the capital.”
Abu Omar, a spokesman for activists in the Damascus region, told AFP via Skype that “all communication has been cut off in and around al-Hama and Qudsaya.”
He charged that regime forces “stormed the areas with tanks” and also spoke of a “massacre” although he gave no further details.
The official SANA news agency said, meanwhile, that government forces clashed with “armed terrorist groups” in al-Hama.
Assad, who has made rare public appearances since the uprising erupted, insists that his regime is battling “armed terrorist groups.”
On June 3 he told parliament of his determination to crush the rebellion “at any price.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Assad discussed the crisis-torn country’s economic challenges, in a state televised speech to his newly-appointed cabinet.
Assad said that his government should focus on the poorest regions in the country.
“Priority should be given to the poorest regions in Syria,” he said adding that Syria “wants to establish good relations with all the world’s nations.”
Meanwhile, Syria’s economic fortunes have gone into sharp reverse.
Prices of basic staples for the typical Syrian family have also sky rocketed, exacerbating everyday challenges for the Syrian people irrespective of their stance on the revolution. Inflation is likely to touch 12 percent this year according to the Economist Intelligence Unit.
The financial woes are not exclusive to the people; the government is facing even worse challenges. Every source of income the government has lost as a result of the increasing pressure by the international community is difficult, if not impossible, to replace.
According to IMF estimates, oil revenues represented between 21 percent and 30 percent of total government income in the years 2006 to 2010, grossing $2.8 billion in 2008 and $2.4 billion in 2009.
The speech followed Assad swearing in the new government, in images broadcast on state television.
The president had issued a decree to form the new government on Saturday, shaking up many cabinet posts but keeping the heads of the interior, defense and foreign ministries, state television reported.
The reappointment of Defense Minister Daoud Rajha will quash widespread rumors, previously denied by the government, that he had been assassinated by rebels who are struggling to bring down Assad's rule.
The 16-month uprising, which has faced a brutal government crackdown, is increasingly being termed a civil war by foreign observers. Assad argues he is pursuing reforms even as he fights a revolt he says is led by foreign-backed militants.
But critics say Assad's appointment of Riyad Hijab as prime minister earlier in June was a sign the president was turning to hardline loyalists. Hijab formed the new government given Assad's approval, Syria TV said on Saturday.
Hijab, a former agriculture minister, is a committed member of Assad's Baath Party, which has ruled Syria for nearly four decades since his father Hafez al-Assad took power in 1970.
Most of the top government posts were given to Baathist loyalists. Critics consider the cabinet to be largely symbolic and say power in Syria remains in the hands of Assad and his close inner circle of family and security force elites.
The new cabinet follows a May 7 parliamentary election which Assad said was part of the path to reform but the opposition boycotted as a sham, insisting the president must step down.
Other than Rajha, the ministers to retain their posts were Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar and Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.
Several new ministries were created in the new cabinet.
The moderate Qadri Jamil, a centrist who has said he is speaking both to the government and to rebels, was appointed minister of internal commerce and consumer protection. The post is newly formed and likely to be mostly ceremonial.