Jordan says defector Syrian PM arrives in Kingdom

AMMAN Wed Aug 8, 2012 11:41am EDT

AMMAN (Reuters) - Jordan confirmed on Wednesday that former Syrian prime minister Riyad Hijab, the highest ranking official to defect since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad broke out 17 months ago, had reached its territory.

The official state news agency Petra quoted government spokesman Samih al-Mayata as saying that Hijab arrived with members of his family in Jordan at dawn on Wednesday.

Mayata denied earlier media reports quoting unnamed Jordanian officials as saying Hijab had arrived on Monday. But a foreign diplomat in Amman told Reuters: "Our information is that Hijab has been here since Monday."

Mohamed Atari, Hijab's spokesman, said the ex-premier waited until Tuesday night to cross into Jordan to ensure the coast was clear since Syrian border patrols had been on high alert after news of his defection circulated on Monday.

Video provided by opposition activists showed Hijab in a living room with Syrian men and children which they said was filmed in al-Naimah, a village in southern Syria, before he crossed the frontier.

Hijab, who like much of the opposition comes from Syria's Sunni Muslim majority, was not part of Assad's inner circle but as prime minister and the most senior civilian official to defect, his departure dealt a symbolic blow to an establishment rooted in the president's minority Alawite sect.

Assad replaced Hijab with a caretaker premier on Monday shortly before Hijab's spokesman announced his defection.

(Reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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