Syrian Prime Minister Riad Hijab has defected from President Bashar al-Assad's regime to join anti-government rebels fighting for control of the country, his spokesman said on Monday.
The BBC reports that Hijab, who was only appointed to his position less than two months ago, is the first cabinet member and the highest-ranking member of Assad's inner circle to defect since the uprising against his rule began last March as part of the 'Arab Spring' revolts.
Hijab, a Sunni Muslim from the Deir al-Zour area, reportedly fled with his family to Jordan, according to al-Jazeera. From there, he is expected to head to Qatar.
Syrian state TV said Hijab had been fired.
"I address you today at this grave hour when the country is living under the brunt of genocide and barbarian brutal killing against unarmed people who are simply demanding freedom and a dignified life," Hijab wrote in a statement read by Mohammed el-Etri, his spokesman.
"Today I declare... that I have defected from the terrorist, murderous regime and [am] joining the holy revolution. And I declare that from today I am a soldier of this holy revolution."
The Arab Times reports that the death toll from the 17-month-long conflict, which the Red Cross declared a civil war last month, has now topped 21,000.
Government and pro-Assad forces are battling rebels for control of the country of 21 million, with clashes rocking Aleppo, the nation's second-largest city. Government fighter jets and artillery are pounding Free Syrian Army positions in and around the city, with at least 10 civilian casualties reported. At least 27 civilians have perished nationwide on Monday, according to al-Jazeera.