The United States has said the defection of the Syria's prime minister is a clear indicator that Bashar Assad's regime is "crumbling from within." Prime Minister Riad Hijab has announced he is joining opposition forces.
White House spokesman Jay Carney told a news briefing on Monday that the latest high-profile Syrian defection was proof that "Assad's grip on power is loosening."
"If he cannot maintain cohesion within his own inner circle, it reflects on his inability to maintain any following among the Syrian people that isn't brought about at the point of a gun," Carney said.
The latest defection "only reinforces that the Assad regime is crumbling from within and that the Syrian people believe that Assad's days are numbered."
He added that the White House would continue its work with the Syrian opposition and international community to ensure a peaceful political transition.
Abandoning the 'terrorist regime'
Prime Minister Rjad Hijab's defection was the highest-profile desertion in the 17-month uprising against Assad's rule. Shortly after crossing into Jordan on Sunday night, Hijab announced his loyalty to the Syrian opposition.
"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," he said in a statement read by a spokesman on Al Jazeera television on Monday. He added that he was "a soldier in this blessed revolution."
Although his defection is likely to serve as a powerful moral boost to the opposition, the true effect it will have on the Syrian regime is up for debate.
The prime minister and cabinet wield little authority in Syria, where the power rests with Assad's inner circle. As a member of the country's Sunni Muslim majority, Hijab was not within Assad's minority Alawite ruling elite.
Indeed, Syrian Information Minister Omran al Zoghbi stressed on Monday that Hijab's defection will have no real impact.
"Syria is a state of institutions and the defection of individuals, whatever their rank, does not change the policy of the state."
Zoghbi also denied media reports that other ministers had defected. "All information on ministerial defections are baseless," Syria state news agency SANA quoted his as saying.
Hijab is expected to leave for Qatar within the next few days.
ccp/mr (AFP, Reuters, dpa)