Defecting PM says Syria regime collapsing


Syria’s former prime minister, who defected last week, said Tuesday that the regime was collapsing and now only controlled about a third of the conflict-wracked country.
“The Syrian regime only controls 30 percent of Syria’s territory. It has collapsed militarily, economically and morally,” Riad Hijab told a news conference in the Jordanian capital.
Hijab fled to Jordan last week, the latest in a string of high-level defections from President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which is becoming increasingly embattled as the 17-month conflict shows no signs of abating.
Rebels claimed Monday they had shot down a Syrian fighter jet and captured its pilot in what would be a major coup for the opposition as it battles escalating air attacks by government forces, particularly in the key northern city of Aleppo.
Assad’s autocratic regime was also dealt a major body blow last month when three top security officials at the heart of Assad’s Alawite-led inner circle were killed in a bomb blast in Damascus.
Hijab’s comments came as fresh fighting for control of key districts of Aleppo erupted while Syrian forces bombarded areas around Damascus and launched a new security operation in the capital.
With Assad’s regime facing mounting diplomatic pressure, a top presidential aide was dispatched to China, which has called for an immediate ceasefire and political dialogue to halt the bloodshed.
China and Russia are deeply at odds with the West over how to end the fighting, after both traditional Syria allies vetoed UN Security Council resolutions, leaving the international community deadlocked on the crisis.
Assad advisor Bouthaina Shaaban is to hold talks with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and other officials, the foreign ministry said, adding that Beijing was also considering inviting members of the Syrian opposition to visit soon.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos also arrived in Damascus on a regional visit “to draw attention to the deteriorating humanitarian situation” and discuss ways of scaling-up relief efforts, her office said.
Over one million people have been displaced by the fighting and another 140,000 have fled to Syria’s neighbours, the UN says, many of them living in tent camps in sometimes miserable conditions.
Many areas engulfed in the relentless fighting in Syria are also facing a desperate plight, suffering from food shortages, power outages and lack of medical supplies.
Damascus is also facing pressure from fellow Muslim states as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) meets in the Saudi City of Mecca to discuss a recommendation for Syria to be suspended from the 57-nation body.
But Iran — Damascus’s closest ally — is vehemently opposed.
“We certainly do not agree agree with the suspension of any OIC member,” Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said Monday. “We have to look for other ways, means and mechanisms for resolving conflicts and crises.”
On Monday, the rebel Free Army claimed it had shot down a warplane in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor and issued a video of a man it said was the captured pilot, a “staunch enemy of the revolution”.
If confirmed, it would be the first time the rebels — who have been demanding anti-aircraft weapons to combat escalating attacks from the sky — succeeded in downing a government plane since the conflict erupted.
State media said the plane had crashed after suffering technical problems and that the pilot had ejected.