Continued from page 2

Assad blames the violence gripping his country on foreign terrorists and armed gangs. In the early months of the uprising, he acknowledged a need for political reforms, but his opponents have dismissed his gestures as a facade.

Tuesday’s fighting near Republican Guard compounds and bases in the suburbs of Damascus killed at least six people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Republican Guard, which is commanded by Assad’s younger brother, Maher, has the task of protecting the capital, the seat of the regime’s power. The fighting suggested growing boldness by the rebels.

Clashes erupt regularly in the suburbs between troops and rebels, but Assad’s forces have firm control of Damascus and it is very rare for fighting to take place near the Republican Guard bases. It was unclear what prompted the clashes or how close they were to the heavily guarded compounds.

Syria’s military remains loyal to Assad despite some recent high-profile defections, and the opposition is fragmented and unable to attack as a unified force, according to U.S. intelligence officials who briefed reporters in Washington on the Syrian conflict.

The regime has maintained troop loyalty by keeping paychecks coming even as food and fuel run out for the rest of the country, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to provide the sensitive information

The officials say the opposition has learned effective guerrilla-like tactics, but is still too disorganized to hold territory, which will likely produce a continuing “seesaw” battle between the two sides.

Also Tuesday, Syria’s new Cabinet was sworn in in front of Assad.

Although he vowed after May 7 parliamentary elections to make the government more inclusive to politicians from other parties, the new government is headed by a key loyalist, and the foreign, defense and interior ministers kept their jobs.

The opposition boycotted the elections, saying they were designed to strengthen Assad’s power. Parliament is considered little more than a rubber stamp in Syria, where the president and a tight coterie of advisers hold the real power.

During the swearing-in, Assad said Syria must direct all its energy to overcoming the conflict.

“We are living in a genuine state of war,” he said.

AP writers Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Selcan Hacaoglu and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, Lynn Berry in Moscow, John Heilprin in Geneva, Kimberly Dozier in Washington, and Ron DePasquale at the United Nations contributed to this report.