A brigade of the Free Syrian Army insisted on Tuesday that former Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab and 35 other top figures had indeed defected to neighboring Jordan, but authorities in the kingdom again denied the allegations.
The al-Yarmouk brigade said the Hijab and other top figures in the Syrian regime, including high-ranking army officers, had crossed to Jordan “before hours.” But a Jordanian official quickly dismissed the claims, according to Al Arabiya television.
The Syrian state television said last week that Hijab was fired less than two months after taking post.
President Bashar al-Assad appointed Hijab, a former agriculture minister, as prime minister in June following a parliamentary election in May which authorities said was a step towards political reform but which opponents dismissed as a sham.
Omar Ghalawanji, who became Syria’s caretaker prime minister after the reported defection of his predecessor, held a cabinet meeting on Sunday in a session attended by all ministers, state TV reported.
The meeting, footage of which was shown on Syrian TV, appeared to be a response to claims by the opposition Syrian National Council that two ministers had defected along with Hijab.
The United States said the defection of Hijab showed that President Assad’s government was “crumbling from within.”
“This is a sign that Assad’s grip on power is loosening. If he cannot maintain cohesion within his own inner circle, it reflects on his inability to maintain any following among the Syrian people that isn't brought about at the point of a gun,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told a news briefing.
“The momentum is with the opposition and with the Syrian people. It's clear that these defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government and Assad cannot restore his control over the country because the Syrian people will not allow it,” he said.