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Syria's ex-Prime Minister: Regime on the verge of collapse (+video)

Riad Hijab speaks out for the first time since he fled Syria to Jordan. He said that morals are down in the Assad regime and that there are cracks in the military.

By Jamal HalabyAssociated Press / August 14, 2012

Riad Hijab, Syria’s defected former prime minister, speaks at a press conference Tuesday at the Hyatt Hotel in Amman, Jordan. Hijab is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from Assad’s regime.

Mohammad Hannon/AP

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Amman

Syria's prime minister who defected to the opposition said Tuesday that Bashar Assad's regime was near collapse and urged other political and military leaders to tip the scales and join the rebel side.

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The former Syrian prime minister talks about the country he left behind and a look at the refugee situation in Turkey.

The comments by Riad Hijab were his first public statements since leaving his post and fleeing to Jordan with his family last week. Hijab is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from President Bashar Assad's regime.

Cracks in the military

"The regime is on the verge of collapse morally and economically in addition to cracks in the military," Hijab told a press conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman.

Hijab is a Sunni Muslim from the eastern province of Deir el-Zour where rebels claimed to have shot down an army MiG-23 warplane on Monday. Hijab, who was not part of Assad's inner circle, said the trip to Jordan lasted three days during which he was protected by rebels of the Free Syrian Army.

He said he felt "pain in his soul" over the regime's shelling and other attacks on rebel strongholds as the government stepped up its military offensive. Activists say more than 20,000 people been killed in the struggle since March 2011.

"I was powerless to stop the injustice," Hijab said, speaking in front of the rebel flag. He called on "honorable leaders" in Syria to defect as well.

'Take the side of the people'

"Syria is full of honorable officials and military leaders who are waiting for the chance to join the revolution," he said, adding that Assad's forces only control 30 percent of Syria.

"I urge the army to follow the example of Egypt's and Tunisia's armies — take the side of the people," he added.

Hijab said he was now backing the rebels, but gave no clue on his plans. There had been speculation that he would travel to the Gulf nation of Qatar, which is one of the rebels' main supporters.

A spokesman for outgoing U.N. peace envoy Kofi Annan said that Syria authorities have backed Lakhdar Brahimi as his successor. The spokesman, Ahmed Fawzi, said the next step was for Brahimi, a former Algerian foreign affairs minister and longtime U.N. official, to formally accept the post and resume efforts for a diplomatic solution to Syria's crisis.

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