A statement read on the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel that was attributed to Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab said he had resigned to protest his government’s harsh tactics as it tries to crush the country’s rebellion, which started nearly 17 months ago.
“I am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime,” the statement said. “I join the ranks of this dignified revolution.”
Reuters news service quoted an unidentified Jordanian government official as confirming that Hijab had defected and taken refuge there.
Syrian state television, however, reported that Hijab had been fired, less than two months after he was appointed to the job.
BBC is reporting as well that al-Hijab defected, citing his spokesman.
The defections have increased in frequency over the past couple months, including in their number top generals and diplomats from embassies around the world. President Bashar al-Assad keeps a tight inner circle made up of family and loyalists, and none of these defections fit the profile of someone inside that circle. But al-Hijab comes the closest, along with former Brigadier General Manaf Tlass. And other reports, all unconfirmed, suggest that two other cabinet ministers defected today, with a third, the Finance Minister, arrested while attempting to defect.
Defections like this represent as great a threat to the legitimacy of the Syrian regime as anything the rebel army can accomplish. Revolutions tend to accelerate quickly once the inner circle around the ruling regime starts to crumble.