Posted by Steve Beckow
BBC News, July 12, 2012
Nawaf Fares announces that he is siding with the revolution in Syria
Syriaâ€™s ambassador to Iraq has defected to the opposition and urged other senior Syrian politicians and members of the military to do the same.
Nawaf Fares is the first senior Syrian diplomat to abandon the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
The move comes just a week after a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Assad also defected.
Meanwhile Western nations are urging the UN to threaten tough sanctions against Syria.
They want a 10-day sanctions ultimatum to be part of a Security Council resolution on the future of the UNâ€™s observer mission in the country. A new resolution must be passed before the missionâ€™s mandate ends on Friday next week.
Mr Fares confirmed his defection in a statement broadcast on Facebook and al-Jazeera TV.
With Syrian revolutionary flags behind him, he read out the statement saying he was resigning both as Syriaâ€™s ambassador to Iraq and as a member of the ruling Baath Party.
The need to decide the fate of the UNâ€™s observer mission in Syria has exposed the fundamental divisions beneath the Security Councilâ€™s paper-thin unity over the Annan peace plan.
It looks as though we are in for a week of brinkmanship, because Russia and China desperately want to keep the mission â€“ the only concrete expression of the plan â€“ and Western nations desperately want some reference to sanctions in the resolution that would renew it.
The Americans have said without pressure a renewal would be meaningless, given the continued violence that cripples the mission.
The Russians have rejected such â€œcoerciveâ€ pressure, but especially if it is only against one side of the conflict, stressing that supporters of the opposition should be pushing it towards peace talks.
It is a question of who blinks first. But if the Russians again use their veto, that would shatter any semblance of the unity Kofi Annan has said is so crucial to the success of his plan.
â€œI call on all party members to do the same because the regime has transformed it into a tool to oppress the people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity.
â€œI announce, from this moment on, that I am siding with the peopleâ€™s revolution in Syria, my natural place in these difficult circumstances which Syria is going through.â€
Mr Fares was appointed ambassador to Baghdad in 2008.
The BBCâ€™s Jim Muir in neighbouring Lebanon says his is a highly damaging defection for President Assad.
Mr Fares, significantly, is also chief of a Sunni tribe, the Uqaydat, which straddles Syriaâ€™s eastern border with Iraq, our correspondent adds.
That area, around the city of Deir al-Zour, has become a hotbed of support for the rebels and has been heavily bombarded in recent weeks.
Syria has been convulsed by internal conflict since protests against President Assad began early last year. The protests turned into an armed rebellion and thousands of people have been killed.
Last week, senior army officer Brig Gen Manaf Tlas fled Syria via Turkey.
He was a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard and as a young man he attended military training with President Assad.
Gen Tlas had been under a form of home arrest since May 2011 because he opposed security measures imposed by the regime, sources said.
Meanwhile diplomatic efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis are continuing, with Western nations pressing the UN to threaten Damascus with sanctions.
The UN is currently debating the mandate for its observer mission in Syria which expires on 20 July. The mission had a 90-day remit to monitor a truce, but fighting has continued largely unabated.
The truce formed part of a six-point peace plan brokered by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
In a closed-door briefing, Mr Annan called on the Security Council to send a message to the Syrian government and the rebels that there would be â€œclear consequencesâ€ for failing to abide by the ceasefire.
Russia has suggested a 90-day extension.
But Western states say a simple rollover of the mission is not enough. A draft resolution has been circulated threatening Damascus with sanctions within 10 days, if it fails to stop using heavy weapons and pull back its troops from towns and cities.
The UKâ€™s envoy to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, told reporters that Britain, France, the US and Germany would propose making compliance with the ceasefire mandatory under Chapter 7 of the UN charter.
Last week, more than 100 countries meeting in Paris called on the Security Council to invokeArticle 41 of the charter, which would allow economic, diplomatic, and travel sanctions but stops short of military intervention.
â€œOur view is that this council needs to put that kind of plan under Chapter 7, make it clear that it is binding,â€ US envoy Susan Rice said on Wednesday.
The BBCâ€™s Barbara Plett at the UN says Moscow has already rejected such measures as â€œunhelpfulâ€, suggesting tense negotiations in the coming days. Russian deputy envoy Alexander Pankin said use of Chapter 7 was a â€œlast resortâ€.
China, which like Russia has vetoed the two previous attempts to impose tougher measures, said it would support a rollover of the mission.