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Syria: Despite prime minister's defection, Assad’s inner circle intact (+video)

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“They control the key decision-making process in tactical terms,” Abdulhamid said of the powerful Alawite dynasties. “The defection shows that the regime has lost control of an old game: the Sunni fig leaf.”

Other reported defectors — including at least two more Cabinet ministers, members of the security apparatus, and Syria’s first astronaut — were said to have left the regime over the weekend, according to opposition activists. The claims couldn’t be independently verified and their strategic significance was unknown. The government denied that others had defected.

Assad’s government has lost control of much of Syria’s rural north and has been battling opposition guerrillas in at least six urban areas, including the capital, Damascus, since four of the president’s top security aides were killed in a bombing at the state security headquarters July 18.

It was difficult to determine, however, who had the upper hand in fighting in Damascus and Aleppo, the country’s largest city and its business hub.

Opposition activists and journalists on the ground reported that fighter jets and helicopter gunships pounded rebel targets in Aleppo, and there were signs that the rebels were giving up ground. A reporter for the Turkish newspaper Zaman wrote Monday that rebels had abandoned their headquarters in Aleppo on Saturday after government planes dropped bombs nearby. The reporter said Syrian government aircraft also could be seen bombing the Salahadin neighborhood two miles away, but that it was impossible to reach the neighborhood because of the presence of loyalist troops.

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