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."

    You May Like

    Beijing Warns Critics Over South China Sea Dispute

    Official warns critics that the more they challenge China's position regarding disputed territories in one of world’s busiest waterways, the more it will push back

    Will New Russian Force Be 'Putin’s Personal Army'?

    With broad powers to control riots, suppress dissent, National Guard may be aimed at sending a message to West as much as keeping peace at home

    Foreign Media in Pyongyang Barred From North Korean Party Congress

    Hundreds of international journalists invited to cover historic party meeting barred from entering actual event

    This forum has been closed.
    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

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020i
    X
    Ramon Taylor
    May 05, 2016 10:05 PM
    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Image Recognition Market Seen Doubling by 2020

    From auto tagging on Facebook to self-driving cars, image recognition technology as it exists today is still in its beginning phases, experts say — and will soon change the way users and corporations interact with the physical world. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports.
    Video

    Video Child Labor in Afghanistan Remains a Problem

    With war still raging in Afghanistan, the country also faces the problem of child labor as families put their school-age children to work to help make ends meet. But, thanks to VOA's Afghan Service, two families whose children had been working in a brick-making factory - to earn their livings and pay off family debts - now have a new lease on life. Zabihullah Ghazi reports.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Troops Recount Firefight Which Killed US Navy SEAL

    A U.S. Navy SEAL killed Tuesday, when Islamic State fighters punched through Kurdish lines in northern Iraq, was part of a quick reaction force sent to extract other U.S. troops trapped by the surprise offensive. VOA's Kawa Omar spoke with Kurdish troops in the town of Telskuf -- the scene of what U.S. officials called a "dynamic firefight."
    Video

    Video British Lawmakers Warn EU Exit Talks Could Last A Decade

    Leaving the European Union would mean difficult negotiations that could take years to complete, according to a bipartisan group of British lawmakers. While the group did not recommend a vote either way, the lawmakers noted trade deals between the EU and non-EU states take between four and nine years on average. Henry Ridgwell reports on the mounting debate over whether Britain should stay or exit the EU as the June vote approaches.
    Video

    Video NASA Astronauts Train for Commercial Space Flights

    Since the last Shuttle flight in 2011, the United States has been relying on Russian rockets to launch fresh crews to the International Space Station. But that may change in the next few years. NASA and several private space companies are developing advanced capsules capable of taking humans into low orbit and beyond. As VOA's George Putic reports, astronauts are already training for commercial spacecraft in flight simulators.
    Video

    Video US Worried Political Chaos in Iraq Will Hurt IS Fight

    The White House is expressing concern about rising political chaos in Iraq and the impact it could have on the fight against the Islamic State. The U.S. says Iraq needs a stable, central government to help push back the group. But some say Baghdad may not have a unified government any time soon. VOA's White House correspondent Mary Alice Salinas reports.
    Video

    Video Press Freedom in Myanmar Fragile, Limited

    As Myanmar begins a new era with a democratically elected government, many issues of the past confront the new leadership. Among them is press freedom in a country where journalists have been routinely harassed or jailed.
    Video

    Video Taliban Threats Force Messi Fan to Leave Afghanistan

    A young Afghan boy, who recently received autographed shirts and a football from his soccer hero Lionel Messi, has fled his country due to safety concerns. He and his family are now taking refuge in neighboring Pakistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.
    Video

    Video Major Rubbish Burning Experiment Captures Destructive Greenhouse Gases

    The world’s first test to capture environmentally harmful carbon dioxide gases from the fumes of burning rubbish took place recently in Oslo, Norway. The successful experiment at the city's main incinerator plant, showcased a method for capturing most of the carbon dioxide. VOA’s Deborah Block has more.
    Video

    Video EU Visa Block Threatens To Derail EU-Turkey Migrant Deal

    Turkish citizens could soon benefit from visa-free travel to Europe as part of the recent deal between the EU and Ankara to stem the flow of refugees. In return, Turkey has pledged to keep the migrants on Turkish soil and crack down on those who are smuggling them. Brussels is set to publish its latest progress report Wednesday — but as Henry Ridgwell reports from London, many EU lawmakers are threatening to veto the deal over human rights concerns.
    Video

    Video Tensions Rising Ahead of South China Sea Ruling

    As the Philippines awaits an international arbitration ruling on a challenge to China's claims to nearly all of the South China Sea, it is already becoming clear that regardless of which way the decision goes, the dispute is intensifying. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
    Video

    Video Painting Captures President Lincoln Assassination Aftermath

    A newly restored painting captures the moments following President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865. It was recently unveiled at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, where America’s 16th president was shot. It is the only known painting by an eyewitness that captures the horror of that fateful night. VOA’s Julie Taboh tells us more about the painting and what it took to restore it to its original condition.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora