Syrian prime minister reportedly defects

Simon Benarroch

Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab announced his defection from Bashar al-Assad's government on Monday, Al Jazeera reported. The announcement came shortly after Syrian state television reported that he had been fired. 

According to a New York Times report, Hijab is thought to be the highest-ranking civilian defector in the 17-month conflict. He had been in the office for less than two months. It was a position which Muhammad el-Etri, his spokesman, told Al-Jazeera was not a matter of choice. 

"He was given two options," Etri said, "either take the office of prime minister or be killed."

He said on Hijab's behalf that he had "joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution."

Ian Black, the Middle East editor for The Guardian, said the impact of Hijab's defection is hard to assess.

"Syria's prime minister is not a position of enormous importance…real power remains with Assad and the coterie of security chiefs and relatives who surround him," he said. 

Many say it is a sign that Assad's government is in trouble, however. The New York Times quoted Paul Salem, director of the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, who called it "a sign of advanced decrepitude" that Assad could not hold on to close officials.