Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Farid Hijab has defected from the regime as the highest level official to do so since the 17-month crisis began.
Hijab, who was only sworn into office in June, joined the opposition after he was fired, state-run television reported on Monday morning.
However, the ex-prime minister disputes the claim made by state television, telling Qatar-based Al Jazeera that he crossed the border into Jordan and the regime made the announcement that he was fired after they discovered that he already fled the country.
“I announce today my defection from the killing and terrorist regime and I announce that I have joined the ranks of the freedom and dignity revolution. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution,” Hijab said in a statement read out by his spokesperson Muhammad el-Etri.
Hijab was planning to defect from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime “for months,” Etri said, adding that fleeing Syria was done in tandem with the rebel Free Syrian Army. Hijab also called on other officials to step down from power and defect.
Due to the volatility of the Syrian regime, he continued, officials should be careful as Damascus will likely “react haphazardly.”
“It will perpetrate more killings [and] any official willing to defect must act wisely. He must take care of himself and his family. The regime speaks only one language: the language of blood,” he added.
Etri told AFP that Hijab will leave Jordan and head for Doha, the capital of Qatar, in several days.
Former Syrian ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares defected last month and is also now in Qatar.
The Syrian National Council opposition ground told Reuters on Monday that two government ministers and three high-level army officers also defected along with Hijab and are in Jordan.
“We are still taking some steps so there is no hurry in identifying them,” council member Ahmed Ramadan told the news agency.
The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.