Syria's prime minister defects to anti-Assad camp
Riyad Hijab is most senior serving civilian official to defect from brutal regime
Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has defected to the opposition that
seeks to overthrow the "terrorist regime" of President Bashar al-Assad.
Hijab's defection is by far one of the highest profile desertions from
Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has defected to the opposition that seeks to overthrow the 'terrorist regime' of President Bashar al-Assad. Hijab's defection is by far one of the highest profile desertions from Damascus.
Analysts say that Hijab's departure is unlikely to have repercussions for Assad's grip on power. Syrian state television maintains that Hijab had been fired, while an official source in the Jordanian capital Amman said he was dismissed only after he fled across the border with his family.
"I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution," Hijab said in a statement read in his name by a spokesman and broadcast by Al Jazeera. "I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution."
A senior figure in the rebel Free Syrian Army Khaled al Hbous said that his fighters had helped Hijab flee the country. "Between 5:30 and 7:30 this morning we did it," he told Reuters by telephone. "We secured his entry to Jordan and the Jordanian army took him from us." He said that more high-level defections would follow.
The opposition Syrian National Council claims that two ministers and three army generals had defected with Hijab, but could not be verified.
Government forces appeared to prepare a ground assault to clear battered rebels from Aleppo, the country's biggest city. There was also violence reported around Damascus, where rebels said government shelling had killed three Iranians the rebel forces were holding.
Hijab was a top official of the ruling Baath party. Like all other senior defectors to date from the government and armed forces, he was also a Sunni and had no real authority over a state ruled by the Assads for the past 40 years.
"Hijab is in Jordan with his family," said the Jordanian official source, who did not want to be further identified.
Assad appointed Hijab, formerly agriculture minister, as prime minister in June following a parliamentary election which authorities said was a step towards political reform.
Syrian television said Omar Ghalawanji, who was previously a deputy prime minister, had been appointed to lead a temporary, caretaker government this week.
Assad along with his father, the previous Syrian president has consistently appointed premiers from the majority Sunni community. The position is largely powerless and control has remained with Assad, his family and security chiefs from the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.
"Defections are occurring in all components of the regime save its hard inner core, which for now has given no signs of fracturing," Peter Harling at the International Crisis Group think-tank says.
"For months the regime has been eroding and shedding its outer layers, while rebuilding itself around a large, diehard fighting force," he said. "The regime as we knew it is certainly much weakened, but the question remains of how to deal with what it has become."
© 2012, Catholic Online. Distributed by NEWS CONSORTIUM.
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Pope Benedict XVI's Prayer Intentions for January 2013
General Intention: The Faith of Christians. That in this Year of Faith Christians may deepen their knowledge of the mystery of Christ and witness joyfully to the gift of faith in him.
Missionary Intention: Middle Eastern Christians. That the Christian communities of the Middle East, often discriminated against, may receive from the Holy Spirit the strength of fidelity and perseverance.
Keywords: Syria, defections, Riyad Hijabm, Bashar al-Assad, Jordan
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