Since Bashar al-Assad's last television appearance on July 22, rumors have swirled about the Syrian president's health
Photo by STR/AFP/Getty Images.
UPDATE: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad appeared on television Tuesday for the first time in two weeks in footage broadcast on state television of his meeting with a senior Iranian security official.
Assad last appeared on television on July 22, in silent footage of him appointing a new security minister, days after four senior security officials were assassinated. Since then, rumors have swirled about the condition of the Syrian president, fueled by a false claim on Twitter on Monday that the Russian ambassador in Damascus said that Assad had been killed. Russian officials quickly denied the report, according to Reuters.
The broadcast featured a meeting between Saeed Jalili, a senior aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and Assad in Damascus to discuss bilateral relations between the two countries, the BBC reports. Iran is one of Syria’s closest regional allies.
They also discussed the capture of 48 Iranians by rebels just south of Damascus on Saturday. While Tehran claims the Iranians were Shiite pilgrims on their way to a Muslim shrine, the captors allege they were members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps on a mission in support of the Assad regime.
Monday, Aug. 6: Syrian Prime Minister Riyah Hijab announced Monday that he had defected to join the ranks of the opposition fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad and bring an end to Assad's bloody regime.
"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 the spokesman and was broadcast on Al-Jazeera television. "I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution."
State-controlled media, meanwhile, reported that Hijab had been fired.
Reuters notes that Hijab is the first Syrian Cabinet member to defect and that his departure is the most high-profile to date. While he was a top member of the ruling Baath party, Hijab was not a member of Assad's Alawite Muslim sect that dominated the Syrian state. Like those senior defectors who came before him, Hijab is a Sunni Muslim.
The new prime minister, Omar Ghalawanji, will lead a caretaker government, according to BBC.