Defection of Syria PM signals regime's end
WASHINGTON, USA (AFP) — The defection of Syria's prime minister shows President Bashar al-Assad has lost control of the country and that his people believe his days are numbered, US officials said yesterday.
Prime Minister Riad Hijab slipped across the border into Jordan on Sunday night and announced he was joining rebels in the highest-ranking defection of the 17-month uprising against Assad's rule.
He was expected to leave for Qatar within days, his spokesman Mohammad Otri told AFP, in a sign of the internal tensions apparently tearing at Assad's government.
In Washington, National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said reports of the defection of Hijab and senior officials were "just the latest indication that Assad has lost control of Syria and that the momentum is with the opposition forces and the Syrian people."
"It's clear that these defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government and demonstrate that the Syrian people believe Assad's days are numbered.
"The quickest way to end the bloodshed and suffering of the Syrian people is for Bashar al-Assad to recognise that the Syrian people will not allow him to continue in power."
Vietor called on all nations to work towards a peaceful transition in Syria to a government reflecting the aspirations of its people.
Acting State Department deputy spokesman Patrick Ventrell welcomed the recent defections, which he said also included Syria's first cosmonaut and a senior intelligence officer.
He said the defections "indicate that the regime is crumbling and losing its grip on power."
"We would encourage others to join them in rejecting the horrific actions of the Assad regime, in helping to chart a new path for Syria — one that is peaceful, democratic, inclusive and just," he added.
"The reality on the ground is changing as the opposition seems to gather strength and as the control of the security of the whole country starts to slip away from the Assad regime."
Hijab was one of the leading Sunni Muslims in Assad's minority Alawite-dominated regime. Ventrell said he did not have any information about whether any of the recent defections included Alawites.
Hijab accused his former boss of carrying out a "genocide" against his own people and said four decades of Assad family rule were collapsing.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due to hold talks in Turkey at the weekend about the situation in Syria at the end of a tour of Africa.
It was not yet clear if she would also be meeting with members of the opposition or other countries involved in the Friends of Syria group.
"The Turkish government is a close ally. They have strong interest obviously in this being resolved as quickly and as peacefully as possible... so she thought it was appropriate to go and consult with them," Ventrell said.
"As our road in the UN may be blocked, now is time to intensify our efforts with the like-minded nations."