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Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has confirmed his defection from Al Assad’s government and that he is in Jordan, thus refuting the Syrian media which has suggested that he was dismissed by Al Assad.
“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 by his spokesman, Muhammed el-Etri, according to Al Jazeera. “I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution.”
Hijab, former Minister of Agriculture, was elected prime minister in June after the parliamentary elections. Syrian authorities said this was a decisive step towards the path of democracy, while the opposition denounced it as a fraud.
Apparently, the now former Syrian prime minister has left the country along with at least two ministers and three military officers.
Hijab is thus added to the growing list of defectors, becoming the highest-ranking official to defect from Bashar Al-Assad’s government since the beginning of the uprising. It all started with the Oil Deputy Minister Abdo Houssameddine, who announced on March 8 his desertion and became the first government men to join the opposition.
Diplomats such as the Syrian ambassador in Iraq, his counterpart in the United Arab Emirates, and four deputies have also crossed the border to join the revolution since civil war started.
Hundreds of soldiers, including senior military personnel have also turned their back on Assad’s regime.
According to The Guardian, “Hijab’s defection had been planned for more than two months” but the actual implementation of the plan had be “delayed on many occasions.” Haaretz Israeli newspaper reports that “Hijab had started to plan how he would defect from the first day that he was appointed as prime minister.”
Omar Ghalawanji, a local government minister, has been appointed to take on Hijab’s office at the moment, official Syrian television announced.
The United States believes that the defection of Syria’s prime minister shows that President Assad grip on power is loosening: “This is the latest indication that Assad has lost control of Syria and that the momentum is with the opposition forces and the Syrian people,” says Tommy Vietor, the National Security Council spokesman.
“It’s clear that these defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government and demonstrate that the Syrian people believe Assad’s days are numbered,” Vietor continued.
The news on Hijab’s defection was released just hours after a bomb ripped through the state TV building in the capital Damascus.