News of the defection of the Syrian prime minister has been welcomed by opposition leaders and the US.
Riyad Hijab and his family are heading for Qatar. Hijab, appointed in June, has condemned President Bashar al-Assad’s handling of the uprising. “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 said in a statement read by his spokesman on Al Jazeera television.
Damascus has played down the news, with state TV showing Hijab’s replacement,caretaker Prime Minister Omar Ghalawanji, holding his first cabinet meeting.
But Washington claims the defection show Assad is losing his grip on power. And that is also the position of the head of the Syrian National Council, based in Turkey, described Hijab’s departure as a “turning point in the revolution”.
“This proves the confusion and erosion of the Syrian regime,” said Abdulbaset Sieda. “Here I see an opportunity to ask all employees, civil servants, parts of the government to take a clear stance now because hesitation is not acceptable at this stage of the revolution.”
The opposition claims three army generals and two other ministers have also defected although Damascus said the cabinet meeting was fully attended.
While civilians have been fleeing in their tens of thousands, heading for camps in Turkey and Jordan, the rate of public defections from the Assad administration has been much slower than the speed at which officials changed sides in Libya for example.