Syrian Prime Minister Defects to Jordan

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Syrian Prime Minister Riad Jihab fled to Jordan today with his family in the highest level political defection to hit the regime of President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising began 17 months ago.

A spokesman said the plan had been in the works for "for months," adding that he accepted the position of prime minister after being threatened with death.

"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," Hijab said in a statement read by his spokesman on Al Jazeera. "I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution."

News of the defection followed the announcement from Syrian state media said Hijab had been fired, a charge spokesman Muhammed el-Etri denied.

"It was arranged with the Free Syrian Army months ago that it would safely deliver him to a secure place where he would announce his defection," said el-Etri.

"He was given two options: to either take the office of prime minister or be killed," he said. "He had a third option in mind: to plan his own defection in order to direct a blow to the regime from within and today he is declaring his defection."

There are unconfirmed reports of other ministers defecting alongside Hijab.

Jihab is not a member of the Assad's inner circle, but he was considered a loyalist and his defection marks the highest in Syria's political structure and the first from the cabinet. Jihab was elevated to prime minister just two months ago from his position as agriculture minister. He comes from the eastern city of Deir Ezzor, which has seen heavy fighting.

Jihab's defection follows those of longtime Assad friend Manaf Tlass, and several ambassadors, including the ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares.

Also today, a bomb ripped through the state television and radio building. Injuries were reported but broadcasts were not interrupted. Syria's information minister toured the damage, calling the attack "desperate and cowardly" and promising an investigation into the bombing.

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