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News Analysis: PM defection deals painful blow to Syrian leadership (3)

(Xinhua)

09:38, August 07, 2012

"There were a number of officials with former Prime Minister Hijab but we are still taking some steps so there is no hurry in identifying them," Ahmed Ramadan, a member of the Syrian National Council has told Reuters. "In order to prevent some pre-emptive strikes, there must be caution in some of the announcements."

Muhammad el-Etri, Hijab's spokesperson, told Al Jazeera TV that Hijab's defection had been being planned for "more than two months ", and was executed in collaboration with the Free Syrian Army.

"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. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution," Hijab said in a statement read in his name by el-Etri.

Last month, Munaf Tlass, a top Syrian general and a friend of Assad and a member of his inner circle, defected and joined the Syrian Free Army.

On July 18, four senior officers and ministers, including Defense Minister Maj. Gen. Dawood Rajha and his deputy Assef Shawkat (Assad's brother-in-law), were killed in a bomb attack in Damascus. The bombing also killed the head of the National Security Department, Hisham Ikhtyar.

The attack was seen by observers as a gut-wrenching blow to the government. Hijab's defection is seen as a sequel of the bombing in terms of its ramifications to the government, which is still reporting military gains on ground against rebels in Damascus and Aleppo, the second largest city and the country's economic hub.

On Monday, al-Watan newspaper said that the Syrian army has fully controlled the last strongholds of the "terrorists" in Damascus and is chasing their remnants at its suburbs.

The paper added that the army has completed its besiege around the northern province of Aleppo, particularly around the restive neighborhoods, noting that the showdown is within hours and that additional military reinforcements have arrived in the area.

Observers have raised speculations that the military gains will be overshadowed by the series of defections and warned that other defections are yet to come.

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