AMMAN, Jordan — The Syrian prime minister who defected said Tuesday that Bashar Assad's regime is near collapse and urged other leaders to tip the scales and join the rebel side.
Meanwhile, the U.N. said an estimated 2.5 million Syrians have been injured, displaced or face problems securing food or other necessities, a sharp rise from about 1 million three months ago.
It was the first public statement by Riad Hijab since he left his post and fled to Jordan with his family last week. He is the highest-ranking political figure to defect from the Assad regime.
"The regime is on the verge of collapse morally and economically in addition to cracks in the military," Mr. Hijab told a news conference in the Jordanian capital, Amman.
Mr. Hijab is a Sunni Muslim from the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, where rebels claimed to have shot down a regime MiG-23 warplane on Monday. Mr. Hijab, who was not part of Mr. Assad's inner circle, said the trip to Jordan lasted three days during which he was protected by rebels of the Free Syrian Army.
He said he felt "pain in his soul" over the regime's shelling and other attacks on rebel strongholds as the government stepped up its military offensive.
Activists say more than 20,000 people have been killed in the struggle since March 2011.
Mr. Hijab, who said that Assad forces only control 30 percent of Syria, said he now is backing the rebels, but gave no clue on his plans.
There had been speculation that he would travel to the Gulf nation of Qatar, which is one of the rebels' main supporters.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 45 people, including 29 civilians, were killed on Tuesday throughout Syria. The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said 50 people lost their lives.
The observatory said six members of the same family, including two children, were killed when troops shelled the eastern village of Shumaita.
In Geneva, the U.N. said that its humanitarian chief has begun talks in Syria on a mission to boost international aid inside the war-battered country. Valerie Amos was to meet with Syria's foreign ministry and the Red Crescent, which has been the pipeline for humanitarian supplies to Syrians caught in the civil war.
Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva, said Ms. Amos is on a three-day visit to the region.
She said the U.N. now estimates that more than 2 million Syrians have been injured, displaced or facing problems securing food or other necessities. Also, more than 200,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries including Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan.
"We have a situation where there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis," Ms. Amos said in Damascus after meeting National Reconciliation Minister Ali Haidar. "Three months ago, we thought that there were about a million people who were in need of assistance. We're now having to revise that number to about 2.5 million."
In other violence across Syria on Tuesday, activists reported clashes and shelling in the northern city of Aleppo, southern province of Daraa, suburbs of Damascus and the northwestern region of Idlib.
State-run Syrian TV said gunmen fatally shot Maamoun al-Zoebi, deputy director of the Health Ministry in the southern province of Daraa, as he was leaving work. The station said four gunmen fatally shot him then took his car and drove away.