Syrian Official Defects, Joins Opposition

Posted March 8th, 2012 at 7:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Syria's deputy oil minister resigned Thursday to join the anti-government revolt, and U.N.-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan urged diplomacy rather than militarization to end the ongoing crisis.

In a video posted on YouTube, minister Abdo Husameddine addressed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad directly, accusing him of vast crimes over the past year as government forces continue to use brutal force to pummel opposition forces and civilians alike. Husameddine, one of the highest-ranking civilian officials to defect, said he does not want to “end his life serving the crimes of this regime.” He urged his colleagues to abandon what he called a “sinking ship.”

The head of the opposition Syrian National Council, Burhan Ghalioun, welcomed the resignation and called for other officials to join the opposition. The U.S. State Department said that, if confirmed, “[the defection] would be very good news.”

Mr. Assad's government has remained largely cohesive thus far, although a steady stream of low-level army defectors have joined dissidents in the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands.

Former U.N. chief Annan, the new special envoy to Syria, cautioned against armed foreign intervention, saying it would make the situation “worse.” Speaking on a visit to Cairo Thursday, Annan said the use of external force to resolve the Syrian crisis would be a “miscalculation” that could negatively impact the wider region.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar – along with three senior U.S. lawmakers – have openly called for arming Syrian rebels fighting to end Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule. Western powers, however, have been reluctant to engage in such intervention, citing concerns about further destabilization. Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Thursday that Ankara opposes military intervention in Syria by non-regional actors.

Annan is due to travel to Syria on Saturday, his first visit since assuming the special envoy post. He will urge President Assad and opposition groups to stop fighting and seek a political solution.

U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos told reporters in Damascus Thursday that the former rebel stronghold of Baba Amr has suffered “significant” devastation and that parts of the district were “completely destroyed” by the government assault. She briefly visited Baba Amr – in the central city of Homs – on Wednesday, the first foreign official to enter the area since the government ended a month-long assault last week.

In Geneva, U.N. officials told the Associated Press Thursday they are preparing a 90-day aid plan for Syria with food stocks for 1.5 million people.