Following the blast that rocked the Syrian state-run TV building in Damascus Monday morning, Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab declared his defection from President Bashar al-Assad's administration, adding that he joined the opposition, a spokesman said on Monday in a statement broadcast on Al Jazeera television. The spokesman revealed that Hijab was threatened with death to take on the position as Prime Minister.
"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 in his name by the spokesman.
The spokesman said Hijab was in a safe place with his family while an official Jordanian source told Reuters that Hijab has defected to Jordan with his family.
Conflicting reports had emerged on the sacking or
defection of Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
At a time when the Syrian state television announced the
sacking of PM Hijab, who had been appointed in June, the head of the
Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman said that Hijab “escaped
from Syria”. The spokesman of the defected Syrian PM later announced that the latter will head to
Qatar, al-Arabiya TV reported.
Following the announcement of Hijab’s "sacking",
the Syrian television said that engineer Omar Ghalawanji,
who was a previously a deputy prime minister, was appointed to lead a temporary caretaker
In this context, head of the Syrian National Council, Abdel Basset Seida said the defection of Riyad Hijab is a sign of the “internal
erosion” of the Syrian regime.
A senior U.S. official says the defection of the Syrian prime minister and other top government ministers is more evidence that the Assad regime "is crumbling."
The American official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Africa called on other senior members of the Syrian government and military to break with President Bashar Assad.
The Jordanian government and the Syrian rebels said Prime Minister Riad Hijab had fled to neighboring Jordan. The rebels said three other ministers also had defected.
The U.S. official spoke on condition of anonymity because the official was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The official said the U.S. is trying to confirm reports of the defections.
Clinton will stop in Turkey for talks on Syria on Saturday.
Meanwhile, in Washington, the White House said the defection indicates the momentum is with opposition forces and the Syrian people.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said the defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government and demonstrate that the Syrian people believe Assad's days are numbered.
Vietor said the quickest way to end the bloodshed in Syria is for Assad to recognize that the Syrian people will not allow him to continue in power. Vietor renewed U.S. calls for Assad to leave power and allow for a political transition.
Meanwhile, the Head of UN observer mission in Syria said that it is
extremely concerned about continued violence, especially in Aleppo.
On a separate note, the Russian Interior Ministry denied on Monday having issued any statement on Assad’s health via twitter. The Russian embassy in Syria also declined to comment on the tweets citing the Russian ambassador on Assad’s health.
On the ground
Earlier on Monday, Syrian state-run television said a bomb ripped through the third floor of the state TV building in Damascus.
The report confirmed that at least three people were wounded in Monday's bomb attack targeting the building which also houses the country's state radio. The building is located at the Umawiyyeen roundabout in downtown Damascus.
A pro-government private Syrian TV station, Al-Ikhbariya, showed pictures of employees inspecting damages in the TV building and tending to a wounded colleague. The Syrian state TV remained on air.
In the first official comment, Syrian Minister of Information Omran
Zoobi said that the television was targeted due to its “valor” adding that this
sort of act is “heinous and low”. “Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Mossad
are responsible for coordinating with “terrorists” in the country” he said. “The
television will continue its work as per normal” he concluded.
In turn, a spokeswoman for the Transitional National Assembly in Libya said that Qatar, Saudi
Arabia and Turkey are supplying weapons to the Syrian opposition.
Meanwhile in Aleppo, clashes and
shelling continued, killing 9 people and
raising this morning’s death toll to 28, according to the Syrian
Observatory for Human Rights.
Later in the day, Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian National Council, said on Monday two government ministers had defected to Jordan along with Prime Minister Riyad Hijab.
SNC executive member Bassam Ishak said three army officers with rank of brigadier-general also defected with Hijab and the two ministers, whose identities were not immediately disclosed. The SNC assertions could not be immediately verified.
On the Iranian detainees file, Iranian
Assistant Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Hussein
Amir Abdel-Lahian denied that the 48 Iranians
kidnapped on Saturday on Damascus airport road were military men.
Syrian rebels said that three Iranian hostages were killed in government shelling in Damascus province. They threatened to kill remaining captives in one hour unless army stops shelling.
For the full LBCI report, please click on the video above