- Last Updated: 2:32 AM, August 7, 2012
- Posted: 1:46 AM, August 7, 2012
BEIRUT — Syria’s prime minister defected yesterday, evidence that the widening cracks in President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have reached the highest echelons of government.
Riad Hijab (pictured) is the highest-level political figure to switch sides and is certain to encourage rebels after a string of military and diplomatic figures abandoned the regime. A Jordanian official said that Hijab fled to Jordan with his family.
The prime minister started planning his defection when he was appointed two months ago, his spokesman, Mohammad Otari, told The Associated Press in Jordan.
“The criminal Assad pressed him to become a prime minister and left him no choice but to accept the position. He had told him, ‘You either accept the position or get killed,’ ” Otari said.
“He considers himself a soldier in the revolution.”
Hijab is part of Syria’s Sunni majority, which forms the bedrock of the opposition in the 17-month uprising that has claimed at least 19,000 lives.
A senior US official traveling with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in Johannesburg said the defection is more evidence the Assad regime “is crumbling,” and urged other senior members of the government and military to break with Assad.