Syrian Prime Minister and Cabinet Members Are Latest to Defect From Assad Regime
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Next to Syria, where the ruling government suffered more defections today as the civil war raged on.
Margaret Warner has the story.
MOHAMMAD OTARI, spokesman (through translator): Today, we have announced the defection of Mr. Riyadh Abdul Rauf Hijab, the Syrian prime minister.
MARGARET WARNER: With that, a spokesman for the prime minister delivered another blow to President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
MOHAMMAD OTARI (through translator): Riyadh Hijab was chosen to be part of this criminal regime, but he decided to join the Syrian people and their blessed revolution.
MARGARET WARNER: Word also came that three other cabinet members had defected. Syrian State TV claimed Prime Minister Hijab was fired and that an interim replacement had already assumed his duties.
Hijab is a Sunni sworn in only six weeks ago. He was thought to be a loyalist to Assad and he had even served as governor of Latakia province, home to a large population from the president’s minority Alawite sect.
In neighboring Turkey today, rebels with the Free Syrian Army said Hijab’s defection is a sure sign that time is finally running out for Assad.
NASAAN BILAL, Free Syrian Army (through translator): What happened is natural. The regime is getting close to the end. The collapse began after the killing of the crisis committee in Damascus. And the defection of the prime minister is the beginning of the end and will be followed by the capture of Aleppo in the near future, God willing.
MARGARET WARNER: Meanwhile, fierce fighting raged on in Aleppo, Syria’s commercial capital. Rebels are trying to withstand heavy shelling from tanks and helicopters ahead of an expected all-out assault by government forces.
The opposition is mounting attacks, too. In Damascus, a bomb blast ripped through the state TV building, wounding three people. No one claimed responsibility, but bombings and suicide attacks have become more frequent in Damascus. And on another front in the escalating civil war…
MARZIEH HASHEMI, Iranian State Television: This hour takes us back to Syria, where news coming out of the country says terrorists have kidnapped 48 Iranian pilgrims near the capital, Damascus.
MARGARET WARNER: Yesterday, video emerged of what were said to be 48 Iranians kidnapped off a bus Saturday by Syrian rebels. Iran insisted they were Shiite religious pilgrims visiting a shrine outside Damascus. The rebels said they were thugs sent by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
Today, the rebels reported three of the captives had been killed by Army shelling in Damascus. They threatened to kill the rest if the assault didn’t stop.