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Turkey Hosts Defected Syrian PM

Turkey hosts defected Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, amid a four-day meeting of the opposition Syrian National Council in Doha.
By Elad Benari
First Publish: 11/6/2012, 6:14 AM

Syrian President Bashar Assad
Syrian President Bashar Assad
Flash 90

Turkey on Monday hosted former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, amid a four-day meeting of the opposition Syrian National Council (SNC) in Doha.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported that the country’s Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, met with Hijab in his second visit to Turkey since September, following his participation at the gathering of leading Syrian opposition figures in Amman last week.

Leading Syrian dissidents gathered in Amman and created a proposal establishing a “new political organ of the opposition, representing all of its components,” the report said.

The new body would include the 14 SNC executive members, three members from the Kurdish National Council, religious leaders, and on-the-ground opposition including fighters and longstanding dissidents, according to a statement by Hijab’s spokesperson, Mohammed al-Otri.

“It remains to be decided whether this body will replace the SNC or will constitute a new coalition,” Otri said, adding that setting up the body “will certainly lead to the formation of a government” in exile.

Asked about Turkey’s approach to the proposal, Davutoglu said, “It’s up to Syrians to decide their destiny” and declined to comment further.

Hijab defected from Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime and fled to Jordan in August. His defection was one of the most high profile desertions from Assad's political and military circles.

On Sunday, Hijab gave his first full interview with a Western newspaper since he fled to Jordan, telling The Daily Telegraph in Britain that he and other senior regime figures pleaded with Assad to negotiate with the Syrian opposition.

One week before his defection, Hijab, the vice president, the parliamentary speaker and the deputy head of the Baath party together held a private meeting with Assad, Hijab said.

"We told Bashar he needed to find a political solution to the crisis," he said. "We said, 'These are our people that we are killing.'

"We suggested that we work with Friends of Syria group, but he categorically refused to stop the operations or to negotiate," added Hijab.

He referred to the war waged against the Muslim Brotherhood by Assad's father, Hafez, which led to the deaths of up to 10,000 people in an assault on the city of Hama.

"Bashar really thinks that he can settle this militarily," he said. "He is trying to replicate his father's fight in the 1980s."

Hijab added that the lack of serious action by the West had consolidated President Assad's confidence.

"Bashar used to be scared of the international community – he was really worried that they would impose a no-fly zone over Syria," he told The Daily Telegraph. "But then he tested the waters, and pushed and pushed and nothing happened. Now he can run air strikes and drop cluster bombs on his own population."

Assad's acceptance of ceasefire proposals by United Nations envoys Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi was "just a maneuver to buy time for more destruction and killings", he said.

Hijab said the violence would continue and the regime would stay in power for as long as Russia and Iran continued to provide support. But even if they cut their allegiance, he said, Assad would most probably still refuse to quit.

"I am shocked to see Bashar do what he has doing," he said. "He used to seem like a good human being, but he is worse than his father. Hafez is a criminal for what he did in Hama, but Bashar is a criminal for what he is doing everywhere."

Shortly after he defected, Hijab had said Assad’s regime now controls only 30 percent of the country.

“I assure you, from my experience and former position, that the regime is collapsing, spiritually and financially, as it escalates militarily,” he said on August 15.

“It no longer controls more than 30 percent of Syrian territory... So let the shining revolution be completed by preserving the unity of the country,” he added.

Hijab said he had made his decision to quit his post on August 5 “after losing hope that this corrupt and brutal regime would change.”

He added, “I have no interest in holding any position, now or in the future following the liberation of Syria.”

Meanwhile on Monday, the violence in Syria continued. At least 50 people died following a massive suicide bombing in the central Syria village of Ziyara, located in the central Syrian province of Hama.

A 50-kilogram (110-pound) bomb also exploded near a hotel in a heavily guarded district in the capital of Damascus, and near army and security compounds, Syrian television reported.

The blast was allegedly carried out by the Ahfad al-Rasoul (Grandsons of the Prophet) Brigade, according to local media reports. The group is a Sunni Muslim group that has attacked military and intelligence targets several times over the past several months.