BEIRUT, July 12 (Reuters) – Syria’s ambassador to Iraq has defected and urged the army to “turn your guns on the criminals” of President Bashar al-Assad’s government, giving the anti-Assad uprising one of its biggest boosts in 16 months of bloodshed.
Nawaf al-Fares, who has close ties to the Syrian security services, was the first senior diplomat to desert Assad, following hard on the heels of Manaf Tlas, a brigadier general in the elite Republican Guard and a close friend of Assad.
Assad’s swift and bloody crackdown on what began as a broad, peaceful pro-democracy movement helped turn it into an armed rebellion. But the insurgents cannot match the army’s firepower, and instead need to erode the loyalty and conviction within Assad’s establishment to loosen its hold on power.
Tlas, the son of a veteran former Syrian defence minister, has made no public comment since fleeing to Paris. But Fares posted a video statement on Facebook on Wednesday that repeatedly said government forces had been killing civilians.
“I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people,” he said.
“I ask … the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens. Turn your guns on the criminals from this regime …
“Every Syrian man has to join the revolution to remove this nightmare and this gang,” he said, accusing the Assad family and its allies of corruption and “destroying society” for 40 years.
The defection was seized on by Assad’s opponents, but also by Western and Sunni Arab powers who insist, like the opposition, that Assad must leave power in any political settlement for Syria.
In Damascus, a terse government statement said: “The Syrian foreign ministry declares that Nawaf al-Fares has been relieved of his duties and he no longer has any link to our embassy in Baghdad or the foreign ministry. They embassy in Iraq will continue carrying out its normal duties.”
Read the rest at The Huffington Post via Reuters