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Nawaf Fares, left, is sworn in as Syria's ambassador to Iraq before Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem AP Photo/SANA, File
Syria

Syrian ambassador to Iraq defects, denounces Asaad

Nawaf Fares called on Syrians to abandon Assad, saying: “The allegiance is to the people, not to a dictator who kills his people”.

THE SYRIAN AMBASSADOR to Iraq has defected, denouncing President Bashar Assad in a TV statement and becoming the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime during a bloody 16-month uprising.

Nawaf Fares is the second prominent Syrian to break with the regime in less than a week.

Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, an Assad confidant and son of a former defense minister, fled Syria last week, buoying Western powers and anti-regime activists, who expressed hope that other high-ranking defections would follow.

Regime

There have been thousands of defections in the past, mostly low-level army conscripts, but until now no one as senior as the general and the ambassador had fled.

In a statement broadcast on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Fares said he was resigning and joining the opposition. Wearing a dark suit and reading from a prepared text in what appeared to be a large office, Fares harshly criticised Assad.

According to the Al-Jazeera translation into English, he said:

I’m announcing from this moment on that I’m siding with the revolution in Syria.

He called on all Syrians to abandon Assad.

Where is the honor in killing your countrymen? Where is the national allegiance? The nation is all the people, not one person in particular. The allegiance is to the people, not to a dictator who kills his people.

Appointed to the Baghdad post four years ago, Fares was the first Syrian ambassador to Iraq in 26 years. Like Tlass, he is a member of the privileged Sunni elite in a regime dominated by Assad’s minority Alawite sect.

Khaled Khoja, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council who is based in Istanbul, said Fares was “moving toward Turkey.”

Welcome development

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US had no confirmation of the defection as of Wednesday afternoon. But he said recent high-level defections from the Assad regime were “a welcome development.”

That is an indication of the fact that support for Assad is crumbling.

The conflict in Syria has defied every international attempt to bring peace. Although the Assad government’s crackdown has turned the Syrian president into an international pariah, he still has the support of strong allies such as Russia, Iran and China.

Two Syrian opposition delegations visited Moscow this week, raising hopes that Russia could be pushed to accept the ouster of Assad. But Syrian National Council head Abdelbaset Sieda said he saw “no change” in Moscow’s stance after meeting with officials including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Activists estimate 17,000 people have been killed since the uprising began, and as the conflict continues, the rebellion appears to be getting more and more radicalized and violent, making any peaceful resolution or transfer of power a long-shot.

Kofi Annan

International envoy Kofi Annan urged the UN Security Council to send a message to the Syrian government and the opposition that there will be “consequences” if they don’t comply with demands for an immediate cease-fire, a UN diplomat said.

Russia and China, veto-wielding council members, have blocked repeated attempts by the United States and its European allies to even threaten “consequences” — a diplomatic code word for sanctions.

The UN sent a 300-strong unarmed observer mission for 90 days to oversee the cease-fire and monitor implementation of the Annan plan. But it was forced to withdraw from key conflict areas because of escalating fighting and the council must decide what to do about extending its mandate, which expires on July 20.

Annan also said that Assad has discussed the possibility of forming a transitional Syrian government. An international conference in Geneva last month proposed having a transitional framework.

Annan said the Syrian leader during recent talks in Damascus “did offer a name” of someone who could serve as an interlocutor for the regime as it explores ways of forming a transitional government with the opposition. Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, told reporters in Geneva that he was now considering the person whom Assad proposed, but he did not identify who it is.

Read: Assad remains defiant in TV interview as Annan arrives in Syria>

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Associated Foreign Press
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