Syrian Prime Minister defects from Assad government
The Prime Minister of Syria, Riad Farid Hijab, has defected from the government of President Bashar al-Assad, denouncing the government as a “terrorist regime”.
In an announcement read in his name by spokesman Muhammad el-Etri on Al Jazeera, Hijab stated:
“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. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution.”
Hijab’s defection is sure to have severe repercussions for Assad’s government, and is the latest blow to the crumbling credibility of the embattled President. The highest-level government defection of the ongoing Syrian crisis was reportedly “planned for months”, and hints at a serious lack of faith the ruling elite have in Assad.
The former Prime Minister is said to be travelling to Jordan to meet with international media in Doha, and then onto Qatar where he is to meet with Opposition leadership.
There are unconfirmed reports that Hijab’s surprise defection has spurred other government officials to make a similar move, with suggestions that at least two other cabinet ministers have defected, and a third, Finance Minister Mohammad Jalilati has been detained whilst trying to flee.
Riad Farid Hijab’s defection follows several key figures of Assad’s government deserting the government over the last few months, amongst them Syria’s Ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares; Brigadier General Manaf Tlas; and at least 30 other generals.
Recent reports suggest that another general, five high-ranking officers and at least 30 soldiers have abandoned the regime following Hijab’s defection.
The defection of Prime Minister Hijab has had a mixed reception, on the one hand being praised by the United States as evidence that Assad’s government was “crumbling from within”; and on the other some elements of the Syria Free Army seem hesitant to embrace Hijab as an ally, due to his decades of service to Assad’s government.
Omar Ghaliwanji, the Deputy Prime Minister, has taken the role of caretaker of the Syrian government in the wake of Hijab’s defection.