Syria's Ambassador to Iraq Joins Opposition

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- Syria's ambassador to Iraq became the first diplomat to defect from President Bashar Assad's regime in the past two weeks.

Reading from a prepared statement on al-Jazeera TV  Wednesday evening, Nawaf Fares announced his resignation after four years in Baghdad, saying he is joining the opposition.

Fares -- the first Syrian ambassador to Iraq in 26 years -- gave no indication as to where or when he recorded his statement.

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters Thursday that Fares is in Qatar. Zebari said Fares' defection was unexpected since he has been loyal to Assad's regime, Reuters reported.

"I'm announcing from this moment on that I'm siding with the revolution in Syria," Fares said, calling on all Syrians to abandon Assad's regime.

"Where is the honor in killing your countrymen? Where is the national allegiance?" he asked.

"The nation is all the people, not one person in particular. The allegiance is to the people, not to a dictator who kills people," he said.

Fares is the second high-level official to defect from Syria in the past two weeks.

On July 2, Brig.-Gen. Manaf Tlass, the son of a former defense minister and reportedly a close confidant of Assad, fled to Turkey with 84 Syrian army officers. On June 21, Col. Hassan Hamada, a Syrian Air Force pilot, flew to Jordan in his MiG-21 seeking political asylum.

The opposition estimates that as many as 17,000 Syrians have been killed in the 16-month uprising, according to AP.

Earlier Wednesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States had no confirmation of Fares' defection, but he called such defections "a welcome development."

"That is an indication of the fact that support for Assad is crumbling," Carney told reporters.

Meanwhile, two Syrian opposition delegations that visited Moscow earlier this week said there was "no change" in Russia's stance on the Assad regime's brutal crackdown. 

"The Syrian people are suffering because of Russia, because of the position it has taken [and] because of its veto in the U.N. Security Council," Syrian National Council head Abdelbaset Sieda said at a press conference. "The current regime uses Russian weapons against its own people."

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