SYRIA Syrian envoy to Iraq defects, calls on others to follow suit
Nawaf Fares: I call on all free and worthy people in Syria, particularly in the military, to immediately rejoin the ranks of the revolution
Baghdad: Syria's ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares has defected to the opposition and urged the army to turn its guns on the regime, becoming the most senior diplomat to abandon President Bashar Al Assad.
"I announce my defection from my post as representative of the Arab Syrian Republic in Iraq and my withdrawal from the ranks of the (ruling) Baath party," Fares said in a message aired on Al Jazeera TV Wednesday and confirming earlier reports of his defection.
"I call on all free and worthy people in Syria, particularly in the military, to immediately rejoin the ranks of the revolution," he said, adding: "turn your cannons and your tanks towards the criminals in the regime who are killing the people."
He also called on fellow Baath party members to reject the regime which he accused of using the party as "a tool to repress the people and their aspiration of freedom and dignity."
The disaffected diplomat submitted a letter to the Iraqi foreign ministry and will meet with Iraqi officials on Thursday, a diplomat said. "They are going to discuss sending him to another country," the diplomat added.
In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters: "There have been a number of high-level defections in recent days and weeks, and they are simply the tip of the iceberg."
"There have been many, many defections within the military leadership, within the government, and I think that is an indication of the fact that support for Al Assad is crumbling, internationally and internally. And that's a welcome development."
General Munaf Tlass is thus far the most influential military officer to have abandoned the Al Assad regime.
An officer in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime, he is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Al Assad's late father and predecessor, Hafez.
Pressure is mounting on Al Assad as Western powers drew up a 10-day sanctions ultimatum late Wednesday.
At the United Nations, Britain, France, Germany and the United States submitted a draft text that would give Al Assad 10 days to implement UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan's ceasefire plan or face tough new sanctions.
High-level defections so far
Nawaf Al Fares, who had held senior positions under the president’s late father and predecessor Hafez Al Assad, is from Deir Al Zor, an eastern city on the road to Iraq that has seen a ferocious onslaught by the armed forces over the past few months. He was the first Syrian ambassador to Baghdad after 30 years. His term began in September 2008.
Syrian Brigadier-general Manaf Tlas, a Sunni, was the highest ranking military general to defect. He was a family friend of President Bashar Al Assad and head of a unit of his elite Republican Guard.
He fled Syria for France and has information about the regime that could help its opponents. Tlas is the son of ex-Defence Minister Moustafa Tlas.