Damascus, London, Asharq Al-Awsat – In a surprise move at the height of the popular uprising in Syria, President Bashar al-Assad issued a decree yesterday appointing General Dawoud Rajha as Syrian Minister of Defense replacing former Defense Minister General Ali Habib.
An official statement claimed that this ministerial reshuffle – the first of its kind in the newly appointed Adel Safar government – was part of “reform” announced by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian state news agency SANA reported that this measure was taken following meetings between the president and “popular delegations and citizens” and due to the former Syrian Defense Minister’s ill health.
But Western diplomatic sources have told Asharq Al-Awsat that “Gen. Habib strongly opposed the military campaign in the city of Hama and his opposition delayed the army from taking this step several times.” The sources said the probable reason for excluding Habib “is the disagreement over management of the crisis and the exhaustion of the army by pushing it into the cities and against the people which led to many and successive minor splits in its units due to their long stay in the cities and the constant friction with the population.”
Gen. Habib’s removal from the defense ministry came hours after an authoritative military source announced that “the army units have started to leave the city of Hama after completing a qualitative mission” and that “life has started to return gradually to normal in it.”
Gen. Habib was born in Tartus Province in 1939, enrolled in the army in 1959, and graduated from the Military College in 1962. He was appointed commander of the Special Forces in 1994 until his appointment as the deputy chief of the staff in 2002. He was appointed chief of staff for the army and armed forces in 2004 and deputy commander in chief of the army and armed forces and defense minister in 2009.
Gen. Habib won several military medals and a special one for carrying out his duty in full in the October liberation war.
Gen. Dawoud Rajha was born in Damascus in 1947 and graduated from the Military College in 1968 specializing in field artillery. He took various military courses, including command, staff, and higher staff ones, and rose through the military ranks to that of major general in 1998 and to general in 2005. He occupied several military posts, among them regiment commander and brigade commander, and director of several departments and administrations in the armed forces before being appointed deputy chief of staff in 2004 and then chief of the general staff of the army and armed forces on 4/06/2009. He won several military medals throughout his career and is married with four children