Opposition: Syrian envoy to Iraq defects
By Holly Yan
Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, has defected from the Syrian government, two members of the Syrian National Council opposition group told CNN on Wednesday.
Al-Fares would be the highest-ranking diplomat to defect since the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
According to Dr. Hassan Chalabi, a Syrian National Council member, al-Fares is “currently making his way to a safe area.”
Chalabi said he was working closely with his contacts in Iraq to coordinate with al-Fares to secure his safety. Another SNC member, Emad-eddin al-Rashid, told CNN that al-Fares is still in Iraq.
The Iraqi government has not commented on the news. It follows the apparent defection last week of a senior military figure, Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, in a protest of the killing of Sunnis.
Tlas, a Republican Guard military commander, is the son of a former defense minister and possibly the most senior Sunni in a power structure dominated by the Alawite minority.
Speaking at a “Friends of Syria” meeting in Paris last Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there was an “increasing stream of military defectors” leaving Syria.
“Regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet,” she said. “Those who have the closest knowledge of Assad’s actions and crimes are moving away, and we think that’s a very promising development. And it also raises questions for those who remain in Damascus.”
Meanwhile, the violence in Syria continues, with at least 34 people killed across the country Wednesday, the opposition Local Coordination Committees of Syria said.
In another development, the head of the Syrian National Council is reportedly visiting Russia’s foreign minister — a notable meeting between a major Syrian opposition group and a government that some opposition members have accused of backing the Syrian regime.