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Defected Syrian ex-PM says Assad rule collapsing

Former Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab has said that Bashar Assad's regime is "collapsing morally, economically, militarily," in his first remarks after defecting from the government in Damascus.

Syria's former agriculture minister Riyad Hijab is seen in this file handout photograph distributed by Syrian News Agency (SANA) on June 6, 2012. Syrian Prime Minister Hijab has been sacked, Syrian television reported on August 6, 2012. Syrian 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. REUTERS/SANA/Handout (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST HEADSHOT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

Syrien Regierungschef Riad HidschabErnennung bei Bashar al Assad

Hijab told a news conference in Amman that he thought President Bashar Assad now controls only 30 percent of Syria, less than a week after fleeing from his prime minister's post and heading to Jordan.

"The regime is collapsing, morally, economically, militarily," Hijab told reporters in the capital of Jordan. "I decided to leave on August 5, after losing hope that this corrupt and brutal regime would change."

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Hijab was appointed prime minister in June, and said on Tuesday that he was not sacked, as Syrian state media reported. The US on Tuesday lifted sanctions on Hijab, urging more individuals in the Assad's government and military to follow his lead.

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

Hijab, a Sunni Muslim, not an Alawite like the president, was not considered a part of Assad's inner circle, but rather a politician appointed in a bid to demonstrate inclusivity in the height of the 17-month Syrian conflict.

Regional isolation

In Saudi Arabia, delegates from the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) gathered to discuss a proposal to suspend Syria from the body as a result of the bloodshed. The move has the support of countries like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar, though Syria's main regional ally Iran is likely to oppose the move at the meeting in Mecca.

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The smaller but more influential Arab League, with 22 member countries, suspended Syria's membership in November 2011 in response to the unrest.

Further fighting was reported across the country, but most notably in the flashpoint Aleppo on Tuesday.

Some activists groups estimate that 18,000 people have been killed in the conflict, though figures are difficult to verify and the UN has not issued an estimate since February.

The UN has reported that 150,000 refugees have registered in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq in the course of the conflict, with as many as 1.5 million feared to be internally displaced within Syria.

msh/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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