Former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab said that President Bashar al-Assad only controls about 30 percent of the country now and that the “regime is falling apart morally, materially, economically.” Hijab, who defected last week after his family was threatened, also said at a news conference in Jordan that high-level civilian and military officials in Syria wish to defect.
A technocrat and Sunni Muslim from the eastern city of Deir al-Zour, Hijab had been appointed to the post of prime minister only in June and was not a member of Assad’s inner circle. The New York Times points out that his comments align with those of other defectors and that he “may have had access to reliable internal assessments or government sources.” The US government has lifted sanctions that had been imposed against Hijab.
The rebels in the Free Syrian Army (FSA) continued to clash with regime forces in the capital of Damascus and Aleppo, Syria’s commercial center. On Monday, the rebels claimed they had, for the first time, shot down a Syrian fighter jet. One video shows a jet in fames and another a man identifying himself as the pilot, Farid Mohammed Suleiman. An armed fighter asks him to give a message to the Syrian army and the man says “I tell them to defect from this gang.” The Syrian regime has claimed that the jet crashed due to a technical failure.
Heavy clashes are also being reported in the central city of Homs, a center of anti-government dissent, that endured weeks of siege and shelling by government forces last year. Syria’s deputy health minister Ma’moun al-Zoubi has reportedly been assassinated in the southern city of Dera’a, where protests first began against Assad’s regime.
After seventeen months of unrest, Syria’s isolation is increasing, with the BBC saying that Assad’s regime could soon find the country suspended from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Co-operation (OIC), which is meeting in Saudi Arabia.
The New York Times observes that the civil war in Syria has increasingly become a “proxy war, with Iran and Russia assisting the government as Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia funnel aid to the rebels.”
Assad has reportedly sent a special envoy, Buthaina Shaaban, to Beijing and China says that it is considering inviting the opposition for talks. The BBC says that Russia is denying reports that Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov told a Saudi Arabian newspaper in an interview that Assad has said he will step down. The Saudi Arabian newspaper al-Watan also quoted Bogdanov as saying that, at a bombing last month at the National Security Bureau in Damascus, Assad’s brother Maher lost both his legs. Russia labeled all these quotes as a “provocation.”
Over 21,000 have died in the unrest in Syria that began with anti-government protests in March of 2011. United Nations emergency relief coordinator Valerie Amos is now in Syria for a three-day regional trip to discuss humanitarian aid for civilians trapped or displaced by the fighting.
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Photo by Freedom House