Assad regime is 'falling apart', says former PM


FORMER SYRIAN prime minister Riyad Hijab yesterday claimed that President Bashar al-Assad’s government was falling apart and now controlled only 30 per cent of the country.

In his first public appearance since defecting to the opposition, Mr Hijab told a news conference in Jordan that the government’s spirits were low.

“I tell you out of my experience and the position I occupied that the regime is collapsing, morally, materially and economically. Militarily it is crumbling as it no longer occupies more than 30 per cent of Syrian territory,” he said.

It has been hard to independently determine the extent of territory in rebel hands because much of the fighting has occurred in outlying towns and rural areas and media access to Syria is restricted.

But President Assad’s regime has lost swathes of territory along Syria’s northern and eastern border and fighting has weakened his hold on larger cities such as Aleppo and Homs.

Mr Hijab, who like much of the opposition comes from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, was not part of the Assad inner circle. But as prime minister and the most senior civilian official to defect, his departure dealt a symbolic blow to the government, which is dominated by President Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

His defection, along with that of Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, has boosted opposition morale but the military reality on the ground has not changed, with aerial and ground bombardment keeping rebels in check.

Mr Hijab urged officers in the military to defect and join the opposition. He also called on rebels to work harder to unify their fractious ranks.

Syrian authorities claim they had dismissed Mr Hijab before he fled, but he told a news conference in Amman he had resigned and defected to the opposition, referring to the Assad government as an “enemy of God”.

“It is my duty to wash my hands of this corrupt regime,” he said.

President Assad faced a further diplomatic blow yesterday with the suspension of Syria from the Saudi-based Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, a step opposed by his Shia Muslim ally Iran.

President Assad will view the OIC move to suspend Syria as the work of Sunni Muslim states backing the rebels fighting to topple him. Divisions among the big powers and regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia have stymied diplomatic attempts to calm the conflict in Syria, where opposition sources say at least 18,000 people have been killed.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said more than 180 people died on Monday.

The violence has displaced 1.5 million people inside Syria and forced many to flee abroad, with 150,000 registered refugees in Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq, UN figures show.

United Nations emergency relief co-ordinator Valerie Amos arrived in Syria to discuss humanitarian aid for civilians trapped or uprooted by the fighting, which has often prevented the delivery of food and medical supplies.

Baroness Amos was due to meet Syrian authorities including deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad in Damascus, followed by talks with officials from the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, spokesman Jens Laerke said.

“She’s there to express her grave, grave concern over the situation,” Mr Laerke told a news briefing. “She will look at the situation on the ground and discuss with the government and humanitarian partners how to scale up the response in Syria.”

About two million people have been affected by the 17-month-old crisis and more than a million are uprooted within Syria. – (Reuters)