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Senior Syrian diplomat defects from embattled al-Assad regime

Nawaf Fares is seen here, in this file picture taken December 7, 2006. Nawaf al-Fares, Syria's ambassador to Iraq defected in protest at the military crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad's forces against a 16-month revolt, Syrian opposition sources said on July 12, 2012.

KHALED AL-HARIRI/REUTERS

Syria's ambassador to Iraq defected on Wednesday in protest over President Bashar al-Assad's violent suppression of a 16-month uprising as the UN Security Council remained deadlocked over the next steps in the crisis.

"I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people," Nawah al-Fares said in a video statement on Facebook. He did not elaborate or say from where he had posted the statement.

"I ask … the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens. Turn your guns toward the criminals from this regime," Mr. Fares said.

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Mr. Fares, who has close ties to Syrian security, was the first senior diplomat to quit the embattled government. He did not spell out his reasons for defecting, but repeatedly said government forces have been killing civilians.

There has been no comment from Damascus or Baghdad about the defection, hailed by Mr. al-Assad's opponents as a sign of crumbling support.

Mr. al-Assad's chief backer on the UN Security Council, Russia, remained firmly in the Syrian leader's camp. And the 15-member council made little headway after international mediator Kofi Annan asked it to agree on "clear consequences" if the government or opposition fail to comply with his faltering plan for a political solution to the crisis.

Mr. Fares, a Sunni Muslim who had held senior positions under the late president Hafez al-Assad, is from Deir al-Zor, the eastern city on the road to Iraq which has been the scene of a ferocious military onslaught by Syrian government forces.

"This is just the beginning of a series of defections on the diplomatic level. We are in touch with several ambassadors," said Mohamed Sermini, a member of the main opposition umbrella group, the Syrian National Council.

The defection of Mr. Fares could be a major blow to Mr. al-Assad, who wants to convince a skeptical world that he is conducting a legitimate defence of his country against foreign-backed armed groups bent on toppling the government.

Mr. Fares's decision to jump ship follows the high-profile flight from Syria last week of Brigadier General Manaf Tlas, also a Sunni and once a close friend of Mr. al-Assad, whose minority Alawite sect has relied on Sunni allies to maintain control of Syria's majority Sunni population.

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