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Syrian Prime Minister is sacked and then defects

Syria's Prime Minister, appointed by President Bashar Assad just two months ago, has been sacked. He has defected to Jordan and is now reportedly on his way to Qatar.

Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab has defected to Jordan, a Jordanian official source said on Monday.

"Hijab is in Jordan with his family," said an anonymous source. Media reports later said that he is on his way to Qatar, following the example of other Syrian defectors.

The defected premier, a Sunni Muslim, was also an official of the ruling Baath Party and a former agricultural minister. He was appointed by Syrian President Bashar Assad in June following parliamentary elections.

Hijab's departure is believed to be one of the most high-profile desertions from the Syrian regime since the conflict in the country began 17 months ago. But Syria on Monday claimed that Hijab had been sacked and replaced by a caretaker prime minister.

According to Syrian state television, Omar Ghalawanji, the deputy prime minister and minister for local administration, will step in to lead a temporary caretaker government.

Rebels hit state TV station

The latest political twist in Syria coincides with continued fighting over the country's largest city Aleppo and a major bomb blast in the capital Damascus.

Earlier on Monday a bomb went off at the site of Syria's state TV center there.

"An explosion hit the third floor of the Syrian television headquarters, causing casualties," said a state TV report.

It said that at least three people had been wounded in the bomb attack. Pro-government private Syrian television station Al-Ikhbariya beamed pictures of employees looking at the damaged media building and dealing with a wounded employee.

The state media building that was targeted is situated in downtown Damascus. It continued to stay on air despite the bombing.

The Syrian capital has been shaken by a string of suicide attacks and bombings in recent months as the civil war in Syria has intensified. But government forces claim that they retain control over the capital despite attempts by rebels to take it over.

Eyes firmly on Aleppo

The Damascus attack came as reports of clashes in Aleppo started to filter through on Monday ahead of a threatened ground assault in the country's second city. Fighting took place in the rebel-held quarter of Salaheddin on Monday, which left one rebel commander dead, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Aleppo fighters

The fighting in Aleppo could decide the outcome of the Syria conflict

Overall, the watchdog reported nine fatalities on Monday, eight of them civilians. It said 19 deaths had been recorded across the country in total.

Syrian military claimed on Sunday to have 20,000 troops amassed outside Aleppo in preparation for a decisive showdown with rebel forces there. Although government and rebel forces have been fighting for control of Aleppo for a week, neither side has made significant gains.

The battle for Aleppo could decide the outcome of Syria's 17-month long conflict.

sej, ng/rg (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)