Syrian President Bashar Assad’s prime minister Riyad Hijab fled to Jordan Monday and declared, “As of today, I am a soldier of the Free Syrian Army,” while Syrian President Bashar Assad escalates his onslaught in Aleppo. Three other ministers also fled.
Jordan confirmed Hijab’s asylum, but the Syrian regime immediately announced that he was fired, two months after he was appointed
Hijab's defection was one of the most high profile desertions from President Bashar al-Assad's political and military circles, Reuters reported. On Sunday, al Arabiya television reported a senior Syrian intelligence officer had also defected to Jordan.
Hijab may have seen the writing on the wall as Assad survives with the diplomatic if not military support of Russia and China, but it is questionable how much longer they can justify their alliance as Syrian war panes bombed civilians in the capital and in the commercial hub of Aleppo.
In Damascus, thousands cheered in the streets over the news that a bomb exploded on the third floor of the regime’s official radio and television building. However, broadcasting continued.
Rebels in districts of Aleppo visited by Reuters journalists seemed battered, overwhelmed and running low on ammunition after days of intense tank shelling and helicopter gunships strafing their positions with heavy machinegun fire.
Emboldened by an audacious bomb attack in Damascus that killed four of Assad's top security officials last month, the rebels had tried to overrun the capital and Aleppo, but the lightly armed rebels have been outgunned by the Syrian army's superior weaponry.
The violence has already shown elements of a proxy war between Sunni and Shi'ite Islam that could spill beyond Syria's border. The rebels claimed responsibility for capturing 48 Iranians in Syria, forcing Tehran to call on Turkey and Qatar - major supporters of the rebels - to help secure their release.
On Monday, Syrian army tanks shelled alleyways in Aleppo where rebels sought cover; a helicopter gunship fired heavy machinegun fire.
Snipers ran on rooftops targeting rebels, and one of them shot at a rebel car filled with bombs, setting the vehicle on fire. Women and children fled the city, some crammed in the back of pickup trucks, while others walked on foot, heading to relatively safer rural areas.
Assad is a member of the Alawite faith, an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam that has dominated Syrian politics through more than 40 years of his family's rule in a country that has a Sunni Muslim majority. He is supported by Shi'ite Iran and by Lebanon's armed Shi'ite Hizbullah terrorist organization and political party.
The Sunni-ruled Muslim Gulf Arab states have called for rebels to be armed and Turkey has provided them with a base, angering Damascus and prompting Syrian state television on Sunday to refer to the rebels as a "Turkish-Gulf militia.”