Assad only controls 30 percent of Syria: defected prime minister

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Syrian former prime minister Riad Hijab, who crossed into Jordan after defecting earlier this month, said on Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad’s regime now controls only 30 percent of the country.

“Oh devoted revolutionaries, your revolution has become a model of effort and sacrifice for the sake of freedom and dignity. I assure you, from my experience and former position, that the regime is collapsing, spiritually and financially, as it escalates militarily,” he said.

“It no longer controls more than 30 percent of Syrian territory... So let the shining revolution be completed by preserving the unity of the country.”

Hijab said he had made his decision to quit his post on August 5.

“I decided to leave on August 5 after losing hope that this corrupt and brutal regime would change. The trip to Jordan took three days,” he said.

“I have no interest in holding any position, now or in the future following the liberation of Syria.”

Hijab urged Syria’s rebels to “continue their fight against the regime as the Syrian people have high hopes and faith in you.”

“I also call on the Syrian armed forces not to point their guns at the Syrian people.”

Hijab, who like much of the opposition comes from Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority was not part of Assad’s inner circle. But as prime minister and the most senior civilian official to defect, his departure dealt a symbolic blow to the government, which is dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

U.S. sactions lifted

The United States, meanwhile, lifted sanctions against Hijab, saying he was no longer a senior official of the Syrian regime.

In a move aimed at convincing members of Assad’s inner circle that they have not been permanently blacklisted, the U.S. Treasury Department unfroze Hijab’s assets.

“This action is being taken because Hijab is no longer a senior official of the Government of Syria,” the Treasury said in a statement.

“The United States encourages other officials within the Syrian government, in both the political and military ranks, to take similarly courageous steps to reject the Assad regime and stand with the Syrian people,” Treasury official David Cohen said.

Syrian authorities said they had dismissed Hijab before he fled, but he told the news conference in Amman that he resigned and defected to the opposition, referring to the Assad government as an “enemy of God”.

“It is my duty to wash my hands of this corrupt regime,” Hijab said.

More than 23,000 people killed in Syria

More than 23,000 people have been killed in violence in Syria since the outbreak of the revolt in March last year, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday.

“As of August 13, 23,002 people were killed, including 16,142 civilians, 1,018 defectors and 5,842 soldiers,” Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP, adding that 2,409 people have been killed in the past 13 days alone.

The civilian toll includes those who have taken up arms against the regime.

The conflict became even bloodier after fierce fighting erupted in Damascus and Syria’s second city of Aleppo in July.

“The total count does not include the Shabiha (pro-government militiamen), thousands of detainees whose fate is unknown, or those who have been killed but whose identities have not been verified,” Abdel Rahman added.

However, it is impossible to independently verify death counts out of Syria, and the U.N. has stopped keeping its own toll.