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Aleppo residents endure humanitarian crisis, Syrian opposition says

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While analysts speculated how much the Syrian prime minister's defection will impact the country's civil war, bloodshed continued unabated in Syria's largest city Tuesday.

Fierce artillery shelling fell on several Aleppo neighborhoods Tuesday morning "amid a state of panic among residents," opposition activists said.

"Many people" were injured in the Shaar neighborhood, which is suffering a humanitarian crisis amid a lack of doctors and medical supplies, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.

At least 11 people were killed across Syria early Tuesday, the LCC said.

Meanwhile, former Prime Minister Riyad Hijab was out of the country Tuesday, a day after defecting from President Bashar al-Assad's 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. I announce that I am from today a soldier in this blessed revolution," Hijab said in a written statement, read by a Syrian opposition official Monday on Al Jazeera.

Al-Assad appointed Hijab as prime minister about 2 months ago -- roughly the same time when Hijab started hatching his plan to defect, said Hijab's spokesman, Muhammad el-Etri said.

The former prime minister escaped Syria with the help of the rebel Free Syrian Army, el-Etri said.

Hijab's defection drew optimism from officials in Washington.

"The momentum is with the opposition and with the Syrian people. It is clear that these defections are reaching the highest levels of the Syrian government, and Assad cannot restore his control over the country because the Syrian people will not allow it," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.

But some analysts said Hijab's departure doesn't necessarily mean al-Assad's regime will implode anytime soon.

"The prime minister in Syria is the head of the government, but the government in Syria doesn't rule the country," said Andrew Tabler of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. "It's the regime, and the regime includes the security services, the army and the members of the Assad family."

In addition, al-Assad's regime is comprised primarily of minority Alawites, while Hijab is a Sunni.

"The lack of any meaningful leadership defections from the Alawite sector of the regime is very distressing," said Aram Nerguizian of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Sunni defections have not weakened the regime's inner core, he said.

Nonetheless, Hijab's departure is considered the highest-profile defection from the Syrian government.

In July, one of Syria's most senior diplomats -- Nawaf al-Fares -- defected, publicly embraced his country's uprising and called for a foreign military intervention. Al-Fares was Syria's ambassador to Iraq.

Manaf Tlas, a Sunni general in Syria's elite Republican Guards, also defected last month. Tlas is the son of a former defense minister and a cousin of a first lieutenant in al-Assad's army.

Hijab, like al-Fares and Tlas, is a Sunni who served in a power structure dominated by the Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shiism.

Opposition leaders hailed the news of Hijab's defection.

"We consider the defection to be what is morally right and what is called for at this historic time," said Abdulbaset Sieda, head of the Syrian National Council. "This is a killer and criminal regime, and at this historic moment, there should be no further hesitation. It is imperative to stand by the people of Syria now."

It was not clear exactly where Hijab was on Tuesday.

El-Etri, his spokesman, said Monday that Hijab was "in a country neighboring Syria" and would be heading to Qatar "sometime soon."

George Sabra, a spokesman for the opposition Syrian National Council, said Monday that Hijab arrived with his family in Jordan.

Roughly 17,000 people have been killed since the Syrian conflict first flared in March 2011, when government forces began cracking down on protesters, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said last month. The opposition put the toll at more than 20,000.

CNN can not independently confirm reports of violence, as the government has severely restricted access to Syria by international journalists.

Article Credit: CNN News

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