Picture: AFP Source: AFPSYRIAN Prime Minister Riad Hijab announced he was joining the rebels last night after slipping across the border into Jordan during the night in the highest-ranking defection of the nearly 17-month uprising.
Mr Hijab was one of the leading Sunni Muslims in President Bashar al-Assad's minority Alawite-dominated regime.
He accused his former master of carrying out a "genocide" against his own people, and said four decades of Assad family rule were collapsing.
"I announce my defection today from the regime of killing and terror, and I join the ranks of the revolt," Mr Hijab said in statement read by his spokesman Mohammed al-Otri on al-Jazeera from Amman last night. "Syria is passing through the most difficult war crimes, genocide, and barbaric killings and massacres against unarmed citizens."
...Mr Otri said the Prime Minister's defection took "months" to organise and "rebels inside the country have secured this honourable exit for him".
"He put his life on the line for this revolt . . . to tell the world that we were forced to be with this regime and the sword was at our necks," he said. "Our information is confirmed through Riad Hijab that the Syrian regime is collapsing and will definitely fall."
Mr Otri said the Prime Minister was in a "safe haven" with his family and "will soon appear and talk".
The Syrian opposition in Jordan said that Mr Hijab and his family had slipped over the border during the night accompanied by two government ministers and three army officers.
"The Free Syrian Army helped all of them cross the border. They are now in a safe place inside the kingdom. Several other army officers defected and arrived in Jordan last night," said Syrian National Council member Khalid Zein al-Abedin.
Another opposition member in Jordan said: "The opposition and the Free Syrian Army are co-ordinating now to help more army officers and officials defect to Jordan in the coming few days."
The SNC hailed a new blow to Assad, who has already seen no fewer than 31 of his generals cross into Turkey to join the rebellion and a growing number of his ambassadors break ranks.
...The 46-year-old Mr Hijab was only appointed on June 6 following a widely boycotted May 7 parliamentary election that was hailed as a centrepiece of reform by the Assad regime, but dismissed as a farce by Arab and Western governments....