Syria PM Defects, 15 More to Come Says SNC
In the most senior defection to date, Syrian Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab, along with two as-yet unnamed ministers, fled to Jordan Monday to join “the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution,” according to the prime minister’s spokesman. Syrian state media announced shortly after the news that Hijab left because he had been fired, and will be replaced by deputy Prime Minister Omar Ghaliwanji in a caretaker government. Hijab’s spokesman rejected the government’s version of events, saying the prime minister had originally only taken the position under death threats and had been planning his defection with the Free Syrian Army for at least three months.
Additionally, a Syrian National Council spokesman announced that another 15 diplomats and officials are planning to defect, adding that “the unravelling of the regime has entered a very sensitive phase”. A U.S. official traveling with Secretary Clinton echoed the SNC wording, saying the defection is proof that the Syrian regime is “crumbling,” while calling on more officials to defect.
Meanwhile, a bomb exploded on the third floor of Syrian Arab News Agency’s headquarters in Damascus. The attack on the state news agency, however, did not interrupt broadcasting and resulted only in minor injuries. Also, armed rebels who kidnapped 48 Iranian pilgrims have reportedly threatened to kill the hostages unless the government halts its assault on Damascus. The group announced that three Iranians had already been killed in government shelling, and that the government has one hour to spare the remaining 45.