In its latest move to encourage high-level defections from the Syrian regime, the U.S. Treasury Department announced Tuesday it would be lifting sanctions placed on Syrian Prime Minister Riyad Hijab, who fled the country last week.
According to a Treasury Department memo, the action was being taken because Hijab "is no longer a senior official of the Government of Syria." Sanctions against newly-appointed Syrian PM Wael Nader Al-Halqi, put in place last month when he was still Health Minister, remain in effect.
To date, 26 senior military and security officials have defected, along with three cabinet members, four parliamentarians and eight diplomats.
"Recent civilian and military defections from the Assad regime are further indications that the government is crumbling and losing its grip on power," Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in Tuesday's press release.
"The United States encourages other officials within the Syrian government, in both the political and military ranks, to take similarly courageous steps to reject the Assad regime and stand with the Syrian people."
Also on Tuesday, Hijab made public remarks in Amman, stating "the regime is collapsing, morally, materially and economically...Militarily, it is crumbling, as it no longer occupies more than 30 percent of Syrian territory."
The remarks by Hijab and sanctions from Treasury come just a day after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) made it clear they will expel Syria from the group in protest to President Bashar al-Assad's failure to end bloodshed in his country.
Last week, more steps against Assad's regime were taken by the U.S. and U.K., as the latter approved a $7.8 million aid package for the rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) to be used for communications equipment and medical supplies. The U.S. extended and added to previous sanctions on Syria as well.
On Monday, the FSA claimed to have shot down a MiG-23 jet in eastern Syria, although the government denied the claim. Video has surfaced of what appears to be the MiG pilot captured by rebel forces.
by RTT Staff Writer
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