(Reuters) – Syria’s prime minister defected to the opposition seeking to overthrow what fleeing premier Riyad Hijab called the “terrorist regime” of President Bashar al-Assad, marking one of the highest profile desertions from Damascus.
Hijab, who like much of the opposition comes from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, is not part of Assad’s inner circle, but as the most senior serving civilian official to defect his departure dealt a heavy symbolic blow to an establishment rooted in the president’s minority Alawite sect.
His departure is unlikely to have repercussions for Assad’s grip on power. That is rooted in the army and a security apparatus dominated by Alawites, which was rocked by a bomb last month that killed four senior officials, including his brother-in-law.
Syrian state television said Hijab had been fired, but an official source in the Jordanian capital Amman said he had been dismissed only after he fled across the border with his family.
“I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution,” Hijab said in a statement read in his name by a spokesman and broadcast by Al Jazeera.
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