Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, sacked his deputy prime minister yesterday, casting new doubt over the chances of an international peace conference to resolve the country's civil war.
The regime said he had overstepped his brief – not the first time that allegation has been made.
Six weeks ago, the Syrian government was forced to distance itself from remarks Mr Jamil made in a British interview where he said the civil war had reached "stalemate" and proposed a ceasefire.
But the sacking is a sign of Assad's hardening position as the proposed peace conference approaches. It also reflects his fear of being sidelined if the big powers do a deal behind his back.
"Jamil's removal from office came because of his involvement in activities and meetings abroad without coordination with the government," said the official statement.
Walid al-Muallem, the foreign minister, said the regime's participation in the peace conference would depend on guarantees against "external intervention". Mr Jamil, a communist, was a self-described member of the opposition until he was brought into the government last year as Assad tried to show he was responding to protests.
He was regarded as the minister closest to Russia – and his sacking may be a signal to the Kremlin. Although Russia is an important ally, there have been suggestions that Moscow is hoping to replace Assad with a pliant leader.
Mr Jamil is a member of the minority Alawite sect to which the Assad family belongs, and which controls the security apparatus. Even if Assad were to be killed or forced out, both the US and Russia want to keep the pillars of the regime in place, at least temporarily, in order to prevent Syria from collapsing into even greater chaos.
The planned peace talks are an attempt to revive "Geneva 1", a failed proposal last year for a ceasefire leading to a transitional government. (© Daily Telegraph, London)