News / Middle East

    Syria's Prime Minister Defects, Flees to Jordan

    Riyad Hijab (L) is sworn in as new Prime Minister by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) in Damascus in this handout photo distributed by Syrian News Agency, June 26, 2012.
    Riyad Hijab (L) is sworn in as new Prime Minister by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (R) in Damascus in this handout photo distributed by Syrian News Agency, June 26, 2012.
    Edward Yeranian
    CAIRO — Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government suffered a significant blow Monday when Prime Minister Riyad Hijab fled with his family to Jordan, two months after taking the top post.

    Hijab said he defected. Syrian state media said he was fired.
     
    "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 on Al Jazeera television.

    A spokesman, Mohammed Otri, later told journalists that Hijab had been planning his defection for a long time. He said the defection did not occur on the spur of the moment, but that it had been planned for several months in coordination with the rebel Free Syrian Army.

    Riad Hijab Profile

    • Defected two months after being appointed prime minister
    • Longtime member of Ba'ath Party
    • Served as Agriculture Minister, has a PhD in agriculture
    • Was governor of Quneitra and Latakia provinces
    • Born in 1966 in Deir Ezzor
    Opposition activists say Hijab and his family were smuggled out of Syria by rebel fighters.

    Syrian state media said Hijab had been "relieved of his duties" and that his deputy, Omar Ghalawanji, was replacing him in a "caretaker" capacity.

    Government struggling

    Hilal Khashan, who teaches political science at the American University of Beirut, said the high-level defection shows that Assad's regime is crumbling.

    "[Hijab] was just appointed by the president," he said. "This means that the president can no longer trust anybody around him, especially Sunnis. This means that he will have difficulty finding somebody to work under his umbrella. The Syrian leadership is disintegrating from within."

    As the fighting continued in Syria's largest city of Aleppo for an 18th day, videos posted on the Internet showed people trying to pull victims from the rubble of buildings allegedly bombed by government warplanes.

    Witnesses say a number of buildings in Aleppo's Sakhour district were leveled.

    The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the army is shelling several neighborhoods in Aleppo and that nationwide nearly 30 civilians had been killed.

    Earlier Monday, an explosion tore through the third floor offices of Syrian state TV in Damascus, causing a number of casualties. The station broadcast video of employees running through smoke-filled corridors as wires and ceiling tiles dangled in the air.

    Government and opposition claims in Syria are difficult to verify because journalists do not have a freedom of movement.

    Aleppo, the country's biggest city, has become a key battleground in the nearly year and a half uprising against Assad's rule.

    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 40 Syrians, including 25 civilians, were confirmed as killed Sunday across the country. The British-based group said more than 24 others were killed a day earlier.

    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.
    Kidnapped Iranians
     
    Meanwhile, Iranian media said Sunday that Tehran has asked Turkey and Qatar to help secure the release of 48 Iranian nationals kidnapped Saturday in Damascus.

    Iran says the victims were religious pilgrims, but a brigade commander with the Free Syrian Army describes them as elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
     
    Iran backs the Syrian government, while Turkey and Qatar support the Syrian opposition.
     
    Former Iranian President Abolhasan Bani Sadr told VOA that the captured Iranians were not armed or wearing Revolutionary Guard uniforms. He said Iran is definitely helping Assad and that the stakes are very high for his country.
     
    He said the fall of the Assad government not only would be a heavy blow to Iranian prestige and influence in the region, but it also would reinforce U.S. policy of containing Iran. He said Tehran views any toppling of Assad as signifying that Iran's turn could be next.

    Call for help

    U.S. Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham say the United States should provide direct assistance to the opposition, including weapons, intelligence and training.

    In a joint opinion piece published late Sunday by The Washington Post, they say the U.S. is jeopardizing its national security, as well as its moral standing in the world, by remaining on the sidelines.

    The senators said inaction would haunt the nation "for years to come."

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    August 07, 2012 2:03 PM
    Big surprise. Assad himself would have defected by now if not for Russia, China and Iran. I heard they captured another minister who also defected and was running away. Does this create a picture of Syria becoming an infected hurricane? I can see that Assad has disappeared but no one knows if he has defected to Iran, Russia or China, as Saudi Arabia will not accept him. Maybe he is in Nigeria supervising Tehran's testing of new strategy to kill infidels in church.

    by: henry mohamed from: yemen
    August 06, 2012 6:29 PM

    I wonder why the American government supports fighting terrorism in Yemen but at the same time supports spreading it in Syria. is alqaeeda an American invention by Saudi hands. The American-saudi intervention in Yemen increases the deterioration in this poor country. I doubt the claimed American democracy in Yemen and Arab world.

    by: Anonymous
    August 06, 2012 3:08 PM
    Excellent news!!! It's just a matter of time before Assads troops turn on him and point their guns at him. Lots more Syrian officials will soon be defecting, but it is hard to defect there. Assad has forced thousands of innocent people from their homes, killed thousands of people, destroyed many towns/cities, destroyed thousands of lives, enforced torture on his own people, and labels the civillians of Syria as terrorists. Off with Assads Head.
    I can't wait to see the youtube video of Assads capture, I will be so happy, it won't be long. You'd think that Russian government would wake up and smell the coffee with all these high level defectors. The defectors are standing up for human rights, something Russia lacks. It's just a matter of time before Russia has the exact same problem, I am more anxious than ever to see the Russian government getting slapped by its own people as well. Putin is just as bad as Assad (Remember Chechnya).

    Overall, at the end of the day Assad will lose, and will be lucky to be alive if he isn't killed by his own in the end. If someone does kill Assad, I hope the killer is the father of children killed by Assads military.

    by: Robert Michael Cerello from: La Mesa, CA
    August 06, 2012 1:16 PM
    This is exciting news. The fact that three prominent GOP delusionalists and their abettors want to ramp up military action of the limited sort that Democrats invented and have made work--after they badmouthed it for months--is perhaps fascinating. No one sane cares what such minds think--but the
    possibilities for the dictatorship-ridden region dictate to my way of thinking that someone other than such hawish loudmouthed brain-size-less-than-belt-size thinkers also needs to be thinking about crafting a long-term policy for the future in the Near East. And warning our Saudi Arabian so-called allies that the handwriting is on the wall for every pretend-religious dictatorships whose tzars think murdering citizens is an answer to a majority's demand for reformed constitutional government.

    This may be a watershed moment for meaningful change in Syria. It means that just as with US corporate welfare, political interference, bribery and election fiascos that the patience of the victims of power seeking regressives may not be infinite at all. Nobody I repeat nobody needs or ever needed and infallibility-spouting Medieval god's-deputy kingship or immoral ayatollah playing god over them; no one ever did and now those who have suffered their misrule becoming sure of that.
    In Response

    by: Anonymous
    August 06, 2012 7:46 PM
    I am not surprised by the defection- however- I think that a dog knows to be faithful to his master- defectors never have good result in their life- history evidenced that.

    by: Takulia from: New York
    August 06, 2012 1:11 PM
    OOOh…. Politics!!! What a dirty, sleazy business, if you need a friend, get a dog. All those who have defected are equally accountable.
    In Response

    by: yaman said from: Syria
    August 06, 2012 6:04 PM
    There is nobody, who can be equal to the criminal Assad. You just can't imagine, who is Assad. Even Hitler will look as an angel comparing with this killer.

    by: Anna from: USA
    August 06, 2012 11:51 AM
    Hooray!!! another bloated Arab defect... hey, Arabs, you are all defects

    by: Michael from: USA
    August 06, 2012 8:35 AM
    The revolution has become a culture itself. Mr Hijab has expanded this. One logic of military truth is that operations often continue unchanged, even when major changes in attitudes in government and culture occur

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