News / Middle East

    Ex-Syrian PM: Assad Government 'Enemy of God'

    Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, August 14, 2012.
    Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan, August 14, 2012.
    VOA News
    Former Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab appeared publicly Tuesday for the first time since his defection, calling President Bashar al-Assad's government an "enemy of God" and saying it is collapsing.

    In a news conference in the Jordanian capital Amman, Hijab said he defected last week from the government and joined the 17-month Syrian uprising of his own will. He said he was not dismissed from his post as Syrian authorities claimed and urged other Syrian leaders to break from the government.

    High-Profile Defectors from Syria

    • Prime Minister Riad Hijab defected to Jordan on August 6, two months after taking top post.
    • Nawaf Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq became first Syrian envoy to defect on July 11, 2012.
    • Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, highest ranking military officer to abandon Syrian government on July 6, 2012.
    • Colonel Hassan Hammadeh flew his MiG-21 warplane to neighboring Jordan during a June, 2012, training mission and was granted asylum.
    • Imad Ghalioun, member of Syria’s parliament, left country in January, 2012, to join opposition.
    • Adnan Bakkour, former attorney general of Hama, appeared in video in late August 2011 announcing he had defected.
    Hijab said the Assad government currently controls only 30 percent of the nation and is collapsing morally, economically and militarily.

    The former prime minister is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from the Syrian government. He fled to Jordan with his family.

    Hilal Khashan, an analyst at the American University of Beirut, says that Western supporters of the Syrian opposition, including the U.S., are trying to identify ex-members of Assad's regime who are able to form a core leadership for a new Syria.

    "The U.S. is trying to identify defectors from Assad's regime as leaders of a post-Assad Syria," Khashan said. "It's clear [from] that, based on comments by Hijab today, when he said that there are good decent people in Assad's administration and that they should join the uprising."

    US Considers Multiple Options

    Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta says he is confident the United States could enforce a no-fly zone over Syria, but that a "major policy decision" needed to authorize such a mission has not been made.

    Panetta told the Associated Press the United States is considering multiple options for Syria and indicated a no-fly zone is not a top priority.

    "We have planned for a number of contingencies that could take place and one of those possible contingencies is developing a no-fly zone. But we've also pointed out difficulties in being able to implement that," he said. "It's not on the front burner as far as I know."

    Last year, the U.S. and its NATO allies implemented a no-fly zone over Libya as rebels fought against and eventually ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi.

    But the circumstances are different in Syria, which has much more sophisticated air defenses than Libya.

    President Assad's forces have increased air attacks in recent weeks, targeting rebel strongholds in key places such as the nation's largest city of Aleppo.

    Syrian rebels have said they need a no-fly zone to protect against the attacks.

    Diplomatic Efforts

    Foreign ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will be holding a summit in Mecca late Tuesday night, after agreeing to recommend suspending Syria from the group.

    The move by the 57-member OIC could lead to a diplomatic dispute during the summit between Syrian ally Iran and pro-opposition Saudi Arabia.  

    Also Tuesday, United Nations humanitarian chief Valerie Amos begins a three-day visit to Syria and Lebanon to discuss ways to urgently boost relief efforts to civilians caught in the conflict.

    A U.N. statement Monday said the visit is aimed at drawing attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Syria, and the impact on people still in the country and those who have fled to other countries, including Lebanon.

    "The humanitarian situation in Syria has further worsened in recent weeks as fighting has spread in Damascus and to Aleppo and other cities," the statement said. "Two million people are now estimated to have been affected by the crisis and over one million have been internally displaced."

    In China, the foreign minister is scheduled to hold talks with a special envoy to President Assad.  China says it is also considering inviting opposition members to visit.

    China has joined Russia in vetoing three United Nations Security Council resolutions threatening Syria with sanctions for using heavy weapons against civilians.

    Violence Continues

    Fighting continued in northern Syria Tuesday after rebels circulated a video Monday of what they claim is the downing of a Syrian plane and the captured pilot. The rebel video cannot be independently verified.

    Opposition activists posted amateur video on YouTube Monday showing a fighter jet flying through the sound of heavy fire, erupting in a ball of flames and trailing a line of smoke.  Someone off-camera celebrates, saying the plane had been hit in the town of Mohassen in Deir Ezzor province. Later, video was released of a man, identified as the pilot, surrounded by armed men.

    State media say a pilot ejected Monday after suffering technical problems during a "routine training mission" in eastern Syria, and that authorities are searching for him.

    According to eyewitness reports, the Syrian government has been using fighter jets as part of its most recent assaults on rebel-held areas across the country.

    On Tuesday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported government shelling in Idlib province that it said killed four people. The Observatory said clashes between government forces and rebels were taking place in other areas of the province following rebel attacks on military targets.

    The group says more than 20,000 people have been killed since the nation's uprising began in March of last year.

    A Syrian refugee woman carries her baby as they walk amidst dust at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, August 13, 2012.A Syrian refugee woman carries her baby as they walk amidst dust at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, August 13, 2012.
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    A Syrian refugee woman carries her baby as they walk amidst dust at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, August 13, 2012.
    A Syrian refugee woman carries her baby as they walk amidst dust at the Al Zaatri refugee camp in the Jordanian city of Mafraq, near the border with Syria, August 13, 2012.
    Refugees Increasing

    The United Nations refugee agency says the numbers of those fleeing fighting in Syria continue to escalate. The agency has registered 157,577 Syrian refugees who have fled to Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Turkey and expects those figures to rise sharply.

    Agency spokesman Adrian Edwards says the number of registered refugees does not reflect the actual number of Syrians who have fled into neighboring countries because many are reluctant to be counted.

    "These are fairly general impressions that our team is receiving that people have been reluctant to register because they fear that this information might get back to Syria and have negative implications for them," Edwards said.

    The UNHCR reports 283 Syrians crossed the border into Jordan on Saturday night compared to what had been a steady average of about 400 people arriving each night since July. It says the decline may be because of dangers refugees encounter while fleeing.

    On another front, the agency has opened a new registration facility in the northern Lebanese city of Tripoli.  Agency spokesman Edwards says there is an increasingly perilous situation along the Lebanese-Syrian border.

    "The security situation for refugees in the northern border areas of Lebanon has been deteriorating," he said. "Northern parts of the Wali Khalid area, where several hundred refugee families reside, has been targeted by shelling from the Syrian side of the border two to three times a week."

    Along the Turkish-Syrian border, the stream of refugees fleeing conflict in Syria's most-populous city, Aleppo, is increasing. In the last four days, the U.N. reports 10,000 Syrians have arrived, bringing the total number of refugees in Turkey to nearly 60,000.  

    U.N. emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos arrived in Syria on Tuesday for a three-day regional trip to discuss humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians trapped in battle zones.

    The U.N. estimates some 1.5 million Syrians are internally displaced and in need of emergency help.

    VOA's Lisa Schlein contributed to this report from Geneva and Edward Yeranian contributed from Cairo. Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments page of 3
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    by: Corrupt_Citizen from: New York
    August 15, 2012 10:44 PM
    This guy has nothing to lose now he knows if he loses ground he can seek shelter in Iran who will welcome him as a hero or be hidden away by the Hizbollah terrorist network who right now are working on a way of getting him out safely and transferring his weapons to their side. Isreal needs to beef up the security at the borders, they should seek international help to keep these light arms from getting into the arms of Hizbollah who in the past was not afraid to use them against Isreali woman and children.

    by: LeRoy Padmore from: Jersey City,NJ
    August 15, 2012 4:23 AM
    Riad Hijad need to be arrested for the atrocity that he and the Assad regime has cause.he is not innocent of what is going on.he was part and parcel of the problem in Syria.He help killed the Syrian people,his hands are not clean.now things are turning bad for them,then he wants to look like the good guy.He need to be arrested for war crime.he was part of that problem.The UN needs to Arrest Hijad.we are calling on for his Arrest now.they all started this problem.He is not a good man himself.

    by: The All Seeing from: The Stars
    August 15, 2012 4:07 AM
    I wonder how much money these american/zionist mercenary's people are getting paided to defect from Assad, most likely coming from american tax payers. If Genghis khan was trying bring down Assad and these so called rebels tried to defect to his side, he would have them executed for disloyalty. Who want's defectors, corrupt folk in the army.
    In Response

    by: Claris Cole from: USA
    August 15, 2012 2:15 PM
    hey fool, learn your history... Genghis Khan is reviled only in Iran... in the US he is actually extolled for killing Muslimes... so right of the bat we know that you are an Iranian imposter...

    by: John from: Perth Western Australia
    August 15, 2012 2:41 AM
    Where Islam is in the majority so will violence and totalitarianism be present. This is the major reason why there will never be peace in the middle east
    In Response

    by: Jessie from: German
    August 16, 2012 11:05 PM
    Absolutely right. The facts all over the world prove that Islam represents evil and violence, where there is Islam, where there is crime and disaster. France,Germany,Holland,Thailand,China,Pakistan,Indonesia,Philippine,England...look at those countires ,all are troubled by domestic Islamist . Why all terrorists come from Islam world ? Reason lies in the Islam doxy, which lacks of humanity,equality, while drum for the war and violence. Until today, the women in Islam are lowly than men, and you can see no peace and technology brough by them, just the blood and death.
    In Response

    by: Joanna from: Canada
    August 16, 2012 12:41 AM
    John, not only if they are majority... look at France, Muslims are not the majority (yet) but they are still 97 percent of crimes rapes murder drugs welfare recipients law suits alleging "racism" squalor filth and degradation... look at Germany same story... look at Holland - a virtual disaster!!! look anywhere you wish you will see the despicable face of Islam in the same light... they have learned to speak the language of "victemhood" and they are using it against the countries who extended welcome to them... Look at CANADA!!! horrific displays
    In Response

    by: Frank Mitchell from: USA
    August 15, 2012 8:56 PM
    Yeah okay. Says the guy from a country founded by blood-thirsty thieves who slaughtered, raped, and pillaged their way to the top of a no name desert with freak animals. Tell me, what contributions has your country made to improving humanity? Islam has given us shampoo, soap, pants, the concept of zero, algebra, chemistry, coffee, need I continue?
    Go back to school chump.

    by: Greg from: usa
    August 14, 2012 5:53 PM
    So after serving in the Syrian government/Assad for many years, he just realized assad is enemy of god? Why didn't he pack and leave years ago if that was the case?
    In Response

    by: Stu from: USA
    August 15, 2012 2:43 AM
    That was exactly my feeling. You know the reason why. He doesn't want to go down with Assad. We all know that a leopard doesn't change its colors.

    by: Erik from: Warsaw Poland
    August 14, 2012 3:34 PM
    What God?

    by: wideNCawake from: NC - USA
    August 14, 2012 3:18 PM
    dogmatism and wasted ideologies have really screwed this world over --- for it is proven.

    by: SwanGo from: NC
    August 14, 2012 3:02 PM
    I wish the media would stop trying to rally American public support for a Syrian invasion. STOP BEATING THE WARDRUMS... our heads hurt enough already.

    by: Nick from: San Francisco
    August 14, 2012 2:41 PM
    Assad is just another dictator whose family's been in power way too many years (like Quadaffi and Mubarreck)
    As the evil monster he is, he is clearly an enemy of God. I don't care what religion you support, this is not a man of love and peace. He has to go, and his end is at hand, plain and simple.

    by: Jake Ryan from: Shermer
    August 14, 2012 2:24 PM
    I guess he is preparing for when the Muslim Brotherhood takes over Syria. Thank god America is working so hard to depose Assad, Syria will be a much better ally to Israel once it is a fundamentalist Islamic state.
    Comments page of 3
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