A statement read on the al-Jazeera Arabic news channel that was attributed to Prime Minister Riyad al-Hijab said he had resigned to protest his governmentâ€™s harsh tactics as it tries toÂ crush the countryâ€™s rebellion, which started nearly 17 months ago.
â€œI am announcing that I am defecting from this regime, which is a murderous and terrorist regime,â€ the statement said. â€œI join the ranks of this dignified revolution.â€
Reuters news service quoted am unnamed Jordanian government official confirming that Hijab had defected and taken refuge there.
Syrian state television, however, reported that Hijab had been fired, less than two months after he was appointed to the job.
Hijabâ€™s departure followed an accelerating stream of defections from Syriaâ€™s armed forces, including that ofÂ Maj. Gen. Manaf Tlas, a former confidante and close friend of Assadâ€™s who fled to Turkey a month ago then went to France to join his father, a once-powerful former defense minister.
Last week, Syriaâ€™sÂ top diplomat in Britain defected, telling the British Foreign Office that â€œhe is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people, and is therefore unable to continue in his position.â€
Real power in Syria is wielded by Assadâ€™s inner circle of friends, family and the powerful chiefs of his security forces. But the defection of the head of Assadâ€™s government nonetheless sent a strong signal that his support is rapidly unraveling even, within the ranks of those assumed still to be loyal.
Hijab, a former agriculture minister and a member of the ruling Baath Party, is a Sunni Muslim from the eastern town of Deir el-Zour, which has been in open revolt against the government for more than a year.
The Associated Press, quoting rebel leader Ahmad Kassim, said three other ministers defector along with Hijab, but that report could not be separately confirmed.
In addition, the wire service said that Turkeyâ€™s state-run news agency reported that Syriaâ€™s first astronaut had joined opposition forces. Mohammad Ahmad Faris, 61, crossed into Turkey after reaching the headquarters of the Free Syrian Army inÂ the city of Aleppo, meeting with rebel commanders there and declaring his solidarity with the umbrella group of rebel fighters, the Anadolu agency reported.