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Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, seen here in 2008, has defected to the opposition/AFP


Syrian premier ‘defects’ in new blow to Assad

Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab, seen here in 2008, has defected to the opposition/AFP

AMMAN, Aug 6 – Defecting Syrian prime minister Riad Hijab is to leave Jordan for Qatar within days, following the example of other high-profile defectors, his spokesman Mohammad Otri told AFP.

“Hijab will go to Doha, where international media are based. He will leave for Qatar tomorrow, the day after or after a few days,” Otri told AFP in the Jordanian capital.

A member of the Syrian opposition in Jordan said Hijab would soon travel to Qatar.

“We are currently coordinating to facilitate the departure of Hijab to Doha in the coming few hours, most probably at 2200 GMT. Seven of his brothers will stay in Jordan,” he told AFP, saying he had helped Hijab defect.

“We understand the sensitivity of this issue for Jordan. We do not want to create problems for the kingdom, which already has tense relations with the Syrian regime,” he said, on condition of anonymity.

Hijab announced he was joining the rebels after slipping across the border into Jordan in the highest-ranking defection of the nearly 17-month uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, defected last month and took refuge in Qatar, which has been among the most outspoken critics of Assad’s regime.

Opposition Syrian National Council member Khalid Zein al-Abedin said Hijab, several members of his family, two ministers and three army officers defected to Jordan on Sunday night.

Abedin said the defection came after “coordination between the Syrian opposition and the (rebel) Free Syrian Army.”

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Another member of the Syrian opposition confirmed the details of the defection.

“The Free Syrian Army helped all of them cross the border. They are now in a safe place inside the kingdom. Several other army officers defected and arrived in Jordan last night,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“The opposition and the Free Syrian Army are coordinating now to help more army officers and officials defect to Jordan in the coming few days.”

Zayed Hammad, head of the Ketab and Sunna Society, a charity that cares for more than 50,000 Syrians who fled violence, said his staff had seen Hijab entering Jordan on Monday night.

“Aid workers from the society saw Hijab, his family and others cross the border last night and I can confirm that,” Hammad told AFP.


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