Former Syrian “Prime Minister” Riad Hijab has reportedly defected to the opposition, dealing what analysts said was a symbolic blow to the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad in its ongoing battle against Western-backed rebels and Islamist forces. The dictatorship disputed those allegations, however, claiming that the ex-premier had actually been fired.
Initial media reports of Hijab’s defection were citing unnamed “opposition activists” who also, apparently inaccurately, claimed that three other government ministers had already fled the country as well. Later, a man claiming to be a spokesman for the former prime minister, whose whereabouts are currently unknown, appeared on Al Jazeera to read a statement supposedly on Hijab’s behalf.
"I have defected from the terrorist, murderous regime and am joining the holy revolution," read Hijab’s supposed statement cited by spokesman Mohammed el-Etri, adding that the former official’s family members were also in safe locations. El-Etri also claimed that the defection had been in the works for months in conjunction with the rebel “Free Syrian Army” (FSA).
"I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution," the statement read.
Like much of the often-contradictory information emerging from Syria, the allegations could not be independently verified. They may very well be true. But Al Jazeera — created and financed by the Sunni-Islamic dictatorship ruling over Qatar, which is also arming and funding the Syrian rebels — has been caught broadcasting bogus, staged, or exaggerated pro-“regime change” reports on multiple occasions over the last year.
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Photo of Riad Hijab under a portait of Bashar Assad: AP Images