Activists have reported that Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab has defected and that he and his family are now in Jordan, in a further sign of the disarray that has befallen the regime of President Bashar al-Assad as the uprising continues into its seventeenth month. Reports of Hijab’s defection came hours after a bomb exploded at a state television station in Damascus; last month, a bomb took the lives of four top-level security officials.
Syrian state media had previously reported that Assad had dismissed Hijab, who was named Prime Minister just three months ago after serving as agriculture minister. Omar Ghalawanji, a longtime official who has been deputy prime minister, was immediately announced as Hijab’s replacement.
Rising Number of Defections
In a statement in Al-Jazeera, Hijab said that he has “joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution” and is now a “soldier in this blessed revolution.” Like Syria’s former minister to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, who defected last month, Hijab is from Deir al-Zour in eastern Syria. Paul Salem, the director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, told the New York Times that, while Hijab’s departure does not “necessarily affect the basic security apparatus and the army, which is still holding the country together,” it is a sign of “advanced decrepitude” in Assad’s regime and the “beginning of an end game sort of thing.”
Hijab would be the first cabinet minister to defect. Three other ministers are said to have defected along with Hijab including Finance Minister Mohammad Jalilati, who was reportedly arrested as he tried to flee, says the BBC. But Syrian state media countered that Jalilati was “still in his office working as usual.” A total of thirty other generals have defected to Turkey and on Monday, the Turkish news agency said that another general, along with five high-ranking officers and thirty soldiers, has also done so.
Bombings and a Propaganda War
The bombings in Damascus are “another sign of the rebels’ ability to breach state institutions,” says the New York Times. Two days ago, the rebels took control of a television station in Aleppo, suggesting that they are “prioritizing control of information in their effort to topple the regime and attract international recognition.”
Certainly the difficulty to obtain accurate information about the situation in Syria has characterized the uprising since it began in March 2011. The Syrian government imposes strict restrictions on foreign journalists reporting from its borders and the state television station has continued to show a “gray-haired host delivering upbeat pronouncements about the war against ‘terrorists.’”
Through the internet, the opposition has often been able to offer a version of events that can be completely opposite to that depicted by the government.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is in the midst of a multi-nation tour in Africa, will be traveling to Turkey this week for previously unscheduled meetings with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other officials, a sign of a “worsening security and diplomatic impasse.”
In addition, Iran is denying that 48 Iranians seized by Syrian rebels over the weekend include members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards. The rebels, who belong to a brigade that acted on its own without telling the Free Syrian Army, say that the Iranians were on a reconnaissance mission in Damascus. Tehran, which is a close ally of Assad’s, says that they are pilgrims who were en route to the Shiite shrine of Sayyida Zeinab and that the group includes women and children. The Iranian government is negotiating for their release.
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