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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Syria's Prime Minister Defects, Flees to Jordan

August 06, 2012

by VOA News

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government suffered a significant blow Monday when Prime Minister Riyad Hijab fled with his family to Jordan, two months after taking the top post.

Hijab said he defected. Syrian state media said he was fired.

"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 on Al Jazeera television.

State television, however, said Hijab was terminated and replaced by his deputy, Omar Ghalawanji.

The news came hours after state media said a bomb exploded at the state television building in Damascus, wounding several people.

More violence

The station remained on the air following the blast, which ripped through the third floor of the building.

A pro-government, private TV station, which itself was hit with a deadly blast in June, broadcast images of the building's damaged walls, wires dangling from a collapsed ceiling and people walking through smoke-filled hallways.

Syrian opposition activists are reporting continued attacks by government forces in the northern city of Aleppo Monday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the army is shelling several neighborhoods in Aleppo, and that nationwide nearly 30 civilians had been killed.

Government and opposition claims in Syria are difficult to verify because journalists do not have a freedom of movement.

Aleppo, the country's biggest city has become a key battleground in the nearly year and a half uprising against Assad's rule.

The opposition Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that more than 40 Syrians, including 25 civilians, were confirmed as killed Sunday across the country. The British-based group said more than 24 others were killed a day earlier.

Riad Hijab Profile

Defected two months after being appointed prime minister
Longtime member of Ba'ath Party
Served as Agriculture Minister, has a PhD in agriculture
Was governor of Quneitra and Latakia provinces
Born in 1966 in Deir Ezzor

Kidnapped Iranians

Meanwhile, Iranian media said Sunday that Tehran has asked Turkey and Qatar to help secure the release of 48 Iranian nationals kidnapped Saturday in Damascus. Iran says the victims were religious pilgrims, but a brigade commander with the Free Syrian Army describes them as elite Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Iran backs the Syrian government, while Turkey and Qatar support the Syrian opposition.

Former Iranian President Abolhasan Bani Sadr told VOA that the captured Iranians were not armed or wearing Revolutionary Guard uniforms. He said Iran is definitely helping Assad and that the stakes are very high for his country.

He said that the fall of the Assad government would not only be a heavy blow to Iranian prestige and influence in the region, but it also would reinforce U.S. policy of containing Iran. He said Tehran views any toppling of Assad as signifying that Iran's turn could be next.

Call for help

Meanwhile, U.S. Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham say the United States should provide direct assistance to the opposition, including weapons, intelligence and training.

In a joint opinion piece published late Sunday by The Washington Post, they say the U.S. is jeopardizing its national security, as well as its moral standing in the world, by remaining on the sidelines.

The senators compared not aiding the rebels to the U.S. relationship with Kurds and Shi'ites in Iraq under Saddam Hussein and the Tutsis in Rwanda, saying inaction would haunt the nation "for years to come."

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