Wael al-Halki (left) and Jakob Kellenberger of Red Cross (Reuters)

Embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has appointed health minister Wael al-Halki as Syria's new prime minister.

He replaces caretaker premier Omar Ghalawanji, who was appointed hours after the defection of former prime minister Riyad Hijab.

Previously described as "a staunch Assad loyalist and key member of the ruling Baath Party", Hijab switched sides to the rebel cause and fled to Syria on 7 August.

Born in 1964, Halki is from the southern province of Dera'a where the 17-month civil war first erupted.

Iran's Syria summit taking shape

Assad's long-standing allies Russia and China have confirmed their attendance at a conference organised by Iran to discuss Syria's ongoing civil war.

Iran, itself a staunch Assad supporter, claims the conference is designed to "find ways out of the crisis" and restore "stability and calm" to Syria. However it insists that only those countries with a "correct and realistic position" on the conflict will be allowed to attend.

In addition to Russia and China, around 15 countries have said they will be participating - including Iraq, Algeria, Tajikistan, Venezuela, Pakistan, India and several members of the Arab League.

Iran has been repeatedly excluded from international talks on the Syria crisis to date, and many commentators believe it is attempting to reassert its international position by organising a conference of its own.