When Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab announced his defection on Aug. 6, White House spokesman Jay Carney called it another sign "the Assad regime is crumbling from within." To date scores of diplomats and high-ranking military leaders have publicly abandoned their posts with the government in Syria. (The government claims it has recalled up to half its diplomatic corps-about 200 out of 400 officers-to stem the tide of inner revolt, but that could reflect the number of defections.)
Hijab, as the highest-level political figure to switch sides, is certain to encourage opposition leaders. "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 in his name by a spokesman and broadcast on Al Jazeera television. A Jordanian official said Hijab took refuge in Jordan.
"This looks like it might become a major turning point," said George Stifo, spokesman for Syrian Christians for Democracy, a pro-rebellion group. He hopes inner turmoil could lead to the regime losing the city of Aleppo, which he believes would cause President Assad to lose the entire country.
But by Aug. 7, the "crumbling from within" had not materialized, as Syrian forces seem determined to battle back every gain made by rebel groups in a conflict that began in March 2011. Already Assad's forces have retaken key parts of Damascus, the capital, once controlled by rebels. And the regime appears determined to escalate its use of force-bringing in helicopter gunships and missiles even over residential areas.
That's leading to an escalation of the humanitarian crisis as Syrians flee the country. Stifo told me his group is assisting up to 30,000 displaced residents from the largely Christian city of Homs, as well as refugees who have escaped to Turkey, where over 45,000 Syrians have registered as refugees. Tent camps for escaping Syrians also have sprung up at the borders with Lebanon, Jordan, and Iraq. No one knows when it will be safe enough to return home.