Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab announced through his spokesman that he has defected from President Bashar al-Assad’s government to join ‘the revolution’, after Syrian state television reported that he was sacked yesterday morning.
Hijab was appointed less than two months ago. He is the first Syrian cabinet minister to defect and is also the highest-profile defector since the uprising began in March last year.
Riad Hijab, who is said to have fled with his family, is a Sunni Muslim from the Deir al-Zour area of eastern Syria, one of the regions that has been most affected by the revolt. Initial reports suggested that Hijab had defected to Jordan. However, Jordanian state TV later denied this. This morning, Hijab’s destination is still unknown. Yesterday afternoon, however, his spokesman, Mohammed el-Etri, told al-Jazeera TV that he was in “a safe location”.
“I address you today at this grave hour where the country is living under the brunt of genocide and barbarian brutal killing against unarmed people who are simply demanding freedom and a dignified life,” read Hijab’s statement read by his spokesman.
“Today I declare… that I have defected from the terrorist, murderous regime and [am] joining the holy revolution. And I declare that from today I am a soldier of this holy revolution.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney said the defection was a sign that President Assad’s grip on power was loosening. “The momentum is with the opposition and with the Syrian people,” he told reporters.
Last month, Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, deserted to the opposition. Like Hijab, he was also from Deir al-Zour. Brig Gen Manaf Tlas, who was considered close to President Assad, defected in July.Thirty other generals have crossed into Turkey so far and the Turkish news agency Anatolia reported yesterday that another general had fled with five high-ranking officers and more than 30 soldiers.
Syrian state TV said Mr Hijab’s deputy, Omar Ghalawanji, would replace him as PM.