Pressure mounted on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad yesterday after a first senior diplomat defected and Western powers drew up a 10-day sanctions ultimatum.
Syrian Ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares announced he was joining a small, but growing list of officials who have defected to the opposition, as the regime battles a near 16-month-old uprising.
“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 satellite channel late on Wednesday.
“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.”
The defector has since taken refuge in Qatar, which has been among the most outspoken critics of al-Assad’s regime, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari said yesterday, quoted on Iraqi television.
Fares, who has served as provincial governor around Syria and held senior Baath Party posts, hails from a prominent Sunni tribe in eastern Syria, with members also in Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Fares had been “discharged” after having made statements to the media “in contradiction with his duty, which consists of defending his country’s position.”
Meanwhile, at the UN, Britain, France, Germany and the US 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.
If Security Council members, including a reluctant Russia, approve it, the resolution would allow for non-military sanctions under Chapter VII of the UN charter if Syrian government forces keep up their offensive on cities.
Negotiations on the Western draft and a rival Russian resolution, which does not mention sanctions, were scheduled to start yesterday in New York. A vote must be held before next Friday, when the mandate of the UN observer mission in Syria ends.
The draft calls for an “immediate” end to violence by government and opposition forces and demands that al-Assad’s troops return to barracks in line with the Annan plan and UN resolutions passed in April.
The resolution would renew the mandate of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria for 45 days and calls on the mission to take on more political duties, moving away from monitoring a non--existent ceasefire.
Russia opposes the use of Chapter VII, but Russian deputy UN ambassador Igor Pankin did not threaten a veto, insisting that negotiations have not even started over the rival texts.
Annan said on Wednesday the motion should include “clear consequences” for the regime if it fails to act and reported that even Syria’s staunch ally Iran and nervous neighbor Iraq now “support the idea of a political transition.”
Syria has been gripped by a vicious civil conflict since March last year, when the regime attempted to brutally suppress a pro-democracy revolt and triggered a broader uprising by armed insurgent groups.