Syrian prime minister defects
SYRIAN Prime Minister Riyad Hijab had "defected" to rebels fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, marking one of the highest-profile desertions from the Damascus government.
Syrian state TV said Mr Hijab had been fired, but an official source in the Jordanian capital, Amman, said he had been dismissed after he fled across the border with his family.
Mr Hijab said on Al Jazeera TV that he had left Syria because of the "killing and terrorist regime (and has) joined the freedom and dignity revolution".
Syrian state TV reported Mr Hijab’s dismissal as government forces appeared to prepare a ground assault to clear battered rebels from Aleppo, the country’s biggest city.
The opposition Syrian National Council said a further two ministers and three army generals had defected with Mr Hijab. That assertion could not immediately be verified.
Mr Hijab was a top official of the ruling Baath party but, like all other senior defectors so far from the government and armed forces, he was a Sunni Muslim rather than a member of Mr Assad’s Alawite sect, which has long dominated the Syrian state.
"Hijab is in Jordan with his family," said the Jordanian official source, who did not want to be identified. The source said Mr Hijab had defected before his sacking.
Mr Assad appointed Mr Hijab, formerly agriculture minister, as prime minister only in June following a parliamentary election which authorities said was a step towards political reform, but which opponents dismissed as a sham.
Mr Hijab’s home province of Deir al-Zor has been under heavy Syrian army shelling for several weeks as Mr Assad’s forces try to dislodge rebels from the countryside.
Syrian TV said Omar Ghalawanji, a former deputy prime minister, had been appointed yesterday to lead an interim government.
Mr Assad and his father, who was president before him, have consistently appointed premiers from the majority Sunni community. However, the position is largely powerless and control has remained with Mr Assad, his family and security chiefs from the Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
"Defections are occurring in all components of the regime save its hard inner core, which for now has given no signs of fracturing," said Peter Harling at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
"For months the regime has been eroding and shedding its outer layers, while rebuilding itself around a large, diehard fighting force," he said. "The regime as we knew it is certainly much weakened, but the question remains of how to deal with what it has become."
Earlier in the day, a bomb blast hit the Damascus headquarters of Syria’s state broadcaster as troops backed by fighter jets kept up an offensive against the last rebel bastion in the capital.
The bomb exploded on the third floor of the state broadcaster’s building, state TV said.
Witnesses said rebels in Aleppo were overwhelmed and running low on ammunition.