In interviews Wednesday, rebels and the spokesman described the obfuscation as an intentional — and effective — twist in a sophisticated plot orchestrated by the rebel Free Syrian Army to dupe the Syrian regime.
“Because of the announcement of the defection, the shelling decreased, and so did the Syrians’ alertness,” Mohammad Otari, the spokesman, said in an interview at a hotel in Amman, the Jordanian capital. “The most important thing is that the prime minister, the head of government, has defected, regardless of when he reached Jordanian land.”
With that arrival, Hijab officially became the most senior Syrian government figure to abandon President Bashar al-Assad’s campaign to crush the ongoing civil revolt. His defection buoyed the spirits of rebel groups inside and outside the country, and it raised speculation that Hijab, a former agriculture minister whose supporters say he was forced to assume the premiership, could emerge as a unifying candidate to lead a transitional government in the event of an eventual regime collapse.
Jordan, which has strived to avoid angering its more powerful northern neighbor, provided no details on Hijab’s escape, other than to say he and his family had arrived in the early morning and were in a safe place in Amman. It was unclear whether the kingdom intended to led credence to the false rebel reports on Monday; anonymous Jordanian officials were quoted reporting the defection that day, but there was no official announcement.
Jordan has turned against its neighbors in the past and has given refuge to other defectors.
In 1995, the country opened its doors to Hussein Kamel al-Majid, an Iraqi general and son-in-law to Saddam Hussein, who brought with him revelations about Iraq’s biological weapons program. Kamel was killed in a 13-hour gunfight the next year after he returned from Jordan to Iraq with assurances that he would be forgiven.
Otari said that Hijab and his wife and children were staying in accommodations provided by the Jordanian royal court and that other relatives were in safe houses in Amman. He said the former prime minister was assessing the situation and would announce within days whether he would stay in Jordan or go to another country, such as Qatar or Turkey.
Also Wednesday, fierce clashes broke out between rebel fighters and government soldiers in the Salahuddin district in Aleppo, the commercial capital of Syria and its largest city. Government troops use Salahuddin as a transit route to the city center.