Syria’s ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares has defected from the Syrian regime led by President Bashar-al-Assad, in protest at the military crackdown by the forces against a 16-month uprising, Syrian opposition sources said.
According to reports by Reuters, Nawaf al-Fares, who has close ties to Syrian security, would be the first senior diplomat to quit the embattled government. There has been no comment from Damascus or Baghdad.
A veteran of Assad’s rule who held senior positions under the late president Hafez al-Assad, Fares is from Deir al-Zor, the eastern city on the road to Iraq which has been the scene of a ferocious military onslaught by Assad 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 Fares, a Sunni, could be a major blow to Assad, who wants to convince a sceptical world that he is conducting a legitimate defence of his country against foreign-backed armed groups bent on toppling the government.
Fares’ 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 Assad, whose minority Alawite sect has relied on Sunni allies to maintain control of Syria’s majority Sunni population.
Tlas fled to Paris and has not spoken since of his intentions. Opposition sources said Fares was leaving Iraq but it was not clear where he would go.