Syria’s prime minister has defected, the opposition said Monday, in what is the highest-profile departure from the embattled regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
Riyad Hijab, who was appointed prime minister in June, fled Syria overnight, arriving with his family in Jordan, said George Sabra, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council.
The government, meanwhile, said Hijab resigned his post, according to a banner on Syrian state-run TV. CNN cannot independently confirm the report, as the government has severely restricted access to Syria by international journalists.
In July, one of Syria’s most senior diplomats — Nawaf al-Fares — defected, publicly embraced his country’s uprising and called for a foreign military intervention. Al-Fares was Syria’s ambassador to Iraq.
Manaf Tlas, a Sunni general in Syria’s elite Republican Guards, also defected last month. Tlas is the son of a former defense minister and a cousin of a first lieutenant in al-Assad’s army.
Hijab, just like al-Fares and Tlas, is a Sunni who served in a power structure dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiism. Hijab became prime minister in late June after the parliamentary elections and was tasked with creating a new Cabinet for al-Assad’s regime.
The news came amid reports of a bombing Monday inside the Syrian state-run TV building in Damascus, the latest in a series of attacks to rock the nation’s capital city as Syrian rebels and government forces battle for control of the country.
There were reports of injuries in the explosion, which comes as al-Assad’s forces fight to keep control of its main cities — Damascus and Aleppo — in the more than yearlong uprising.
Roughly 17,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict first flared in March 2011, when government forces began cracking down on protesters, Ban said last month. The opposition put the toll at more than 20,000.