(WASHINGTON) — As a furious volley of firepower hit the streets of Aleppo, Syria, Tuesday, the country’s former prime minister spoke out for the first time since his defection.
Ex-Prime Minister Riyad Hijab said that President Bashar al-Assad’s control was crumbling.
“The regime is spiritually, financially and militarily cracked,” ex-Prime Minister Riyad Hijab said. “And it only controls 30 percent of Syrian lands.”
Although the State Department did not confirm the 30 percent, its spokeswoman Tuesday agreed with Hijab’s assessment that the regime is weakening.
“As we’ve been saying for a number of weeks now, we do believe that the opposition is gaining control of more and more territory,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday. “I can’t speak to the precise number that the former prime minister cited.”
On Tuesday, Assad’s forces appeared to move street to street, leaving the dead and wounded in their path — even as the cracks seemed to grow despite beneath the show of force.
Hijab is among several who have defected, including generals and ambassadors.
While the U.S. has been providing humanitarian aid and non-lethal help, the country is no closer to providing what the rebels desperately want — help in stopping the regime’s attacks from the air.
Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Tuesday that the U.S. was not interested in establishing a no-fly zone over the skies of Syria as it did to effectively topple Libya’s Moammar Khadafi.
“With regards to the no-fly zone,” he said, “that is not a front-burner item for us.”
It would be a dangerous mission. Syria has 20 times the number of surface-to-air missiles that Libya did — 4,707 to 216. Syria has far more combat aircraft than Libya — 555 to 394 — and its pilots are far more capable. In addition, the Syrian population is three times that of Libya’s — 22.5 million to 6.5 million.
“This is a country that we, as a United States is war-weary,” said retired Gen. James Cartwright, an ABC News consultant. “We have fiscal challenges of our own and to get in the middle of a civil war. … I just don’t see it happening.”
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Ben Westcott, CNN
Lorenzo D'Agostino and Hilary Clarke, CNN
Kareem Khadder, CNN