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Syrian prime minister defects from Assad regime (+video)

Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, a Sunni in Bashar al-Assad's Alawite-dominated government, is among the highest profile defectors to the opposition. 

Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defects
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Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has defected to the opposition seeking to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, a spokesman for Hijab said on Monday, marking one of the highest profile desertions from the Damascus government.

Syrian state television said Hijab had been fired, but an official source in the Jordanian capital Amman said he had been dismissed only after he fled across the border with his family.

"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," Hijab said in a statement read in his name by the spokesman, which was broadcast on Al Jazeera television. "I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution."

Syrian state television reported Hijab's dismissal as government forces appeared to prepare a ground assault to clear battered rebels from Aleppo, the country's biggest city.

The opposition Syrian National Council said a further two ministers and three army generals had defected with Hijab. That assertion could not immediately be verified.

Hijab was a top official of the ruling Baath party but, like all other senior defectors so far from the government and armed forces, he was also a Sunni Muslim rather than a member of Assad's Alawite sect, which has long dominated the Syrian state.

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