DAMASCUS, Aug 6: Syria’s prime minister Riad Hijab joined the anti-regime revolt and fled abroad, in what Washington and the opposition hailed on Monday as a major blow to President Bashar al-Assad.

In the highest-ranking defection of the nearly 17-month uprising, Mr Hijab, a leading Sunni in Mr Assad’s minority Alawite-dominated regime, announced he was joining the rebels after slipping across the border into Jordan on Sunday night.

He accused his former master of carrying out “genocide” against his own people and said four decades of Assad family rule were collapsing.

“I announce my defection today from the regime of killing and terror, and I join the ranks of the revolt,” Mr Hijab said in a statement read by his spokesman Mohammed al-Otri on Al -Jazeera news channel from Amman.

“Syria is passing through the most difficult war crimes, genocide, and barbaric killings and massacres against unarmed citizens,” he said.

The spokesman said Mr Hijab would leave for Qatar within days.

The latest defection shows Mr Assad has lost control of the country and that his people believe his days are numbered, a US official in Washington said.

The development was “just the latest indication that Assad has lost control of Syria and that the momentum is with the opposition forces and the Syrian people,” National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said.

The Syrian opposition in Jordan said Mr Hijab and his family had slipped over the border during the night accompanied by two government ministers and three army officers.

Govt: Hijab sacked

In Damascus, state television put out a terse report announcing that Mr Hijab had been dismissed. It said Deputy Prime Minister and Local Government Minister Omar Ghalawanji had been appointed caretaker premier.—AFP

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