Sacked premier flees overseas from Syria
DAMASCUS / AMMAN
An employee walks near a portrait of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad hanging on the wall inside a Syrian state television and radio building in Damascus. REUTERS photoSyria’s prime minister defected and fled to neighboring Jordan, evidence that the cracks in President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have reached the highest echelons of government.
Ahmad Kassim, a senior official with the Free Syrian Army, said Prime Minister Riad Hijab defected to Jordan along with three other ministers. A Jordanian government official confirmed Hijab had defected with his family but did not comment on whether three other ministers had also come.
Hijab’s spokesman said he was to leave Jordan for Qatar within days, following the example of other high-profile defectors. Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, defected last month and took refuge in Qatar, which has been among the most outspoken critics of al-Assad’s regime.
Two months planning
Hijab is the highest-level government official to defect since the uprising began 17 months ago. Al-Assad’s regime has suffered a series of significant setbacks over the past month that point to a loosening of its grip on the country.
Hijab’s defection comes less than two months after he was appointed to the post. Syrian television said Omar Ghalawanji, who was previously a deputy prime minister, had been appointed to lead a temporary caretaker government. Rebel sources said Hijab had planned his defection for more than two months, and had begun the planning as soon as he was appointed prime minister. They said Hijab was in a “safe place” along with his family and seven brothers, including two who held top government posts at the ministries of oil and environment.
Earlier yesterday, Syrian state-run TV reported Hijab was fired from his post. Hijab was considered a loyalist in al-Assad’s ruling Baath party. Like all other senior defectors so far from the government and armed forces, he was also a Sunni Muslim rather than a member of al-Assad’s Alawite sect. A few hours before news of the defections came out, a bomb ripped through the third floor of the state TV building in Damascus, shattering offices and wounding at least three employees. The station remained on the air despite what was another severe breach of a state institution and a heavily guarded area in the capital.
Compiled from AP and AFP stories by the Daily News staff.
Baghdad, KRG agree on troops
ARBIL – Reuters
Iraq’s central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) have agreed to pull their troops back from locations near a disputed area along the Syrian border in order to ease tensions, a KRG official said yesterday.“The Iraqi army and the peshmerga will take responsibility for each of the areas where they are stationed, protect the borders between Iraq and Syria and reduce tension on the main roads in the area,” a KRG statement said. Calls from Washington urging restraint had helped ease the disagreement, KRG sources said.