Syria hit by diplomatic defections
Syria's ambassador to Iraq has defected and urged the army to "turn your guns on the criminals" of President Bashar al-Assad's government.
Nawaf al-Fares, who has close ties to the Syrian security services, was the first senior diplomat to desert Dr Assad following Manaf Tlas, a brigadier general in the elite Republican Guard and a close friend of Dr Assad.
Dr Assad's bloody crackdown on what began as a broad, peaceful pro-democracy movement helped turn it into an armed rebellion. But the insurgents cannot match the army's firepower, and instead need to erode the loyalty and conviction within Dr Assad's establishment to loosen its hold on power.
Mr Tlas, the son of a veteran former Syrian defence minister, has made no public comment since fleeing to Paris.
But Mr Fares posted a video statement on Facebook last night that repeatedly said government forces had been killing civilians.
"I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people," he said.
"I ask . . . the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens. Turn your guns on the criminals from this regime. . . . Every Syrian man has to join the revolution to remove this nightmare and this gang," he said, accusing the Assad family and its allies of corruption and "destroying society" for 40 years.
The defection was seized on by Dr Assad's opponents, but also by Western and Sunni Arab powers who insist, like the opposition, that Dr Assad must leave power in any political settlement for Syria.
In Damascus, a terse government statement said: "The Syrian foreign ministry declares that Nawaf al-Fares has been relieved of his duties and he no longer has any link to our embassy in Baghdad or the foreign ministry. They embassy in Iraq will continue carrying out its normal duties."
The United States today said it sees sees growing pressure on the Syrian government, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said today in Cambodia.
"We do see momentum building" against Assad, Mrs Clinton said at a press conference in Phnom Penh, citing the defection of Damascus' ambassador to Iraq and the crumbling economy.
She said the United States is committed to supporting special envoy Kofi Annan's six-point plan for a political transition that eases out Assad. Mrs Clinton called on Russia to join the United States in "a serious resolution that gives Mr Annan what he needs, what he's been asking for and imposes real consequences" for failure to comply.
With events on the ground outrunning diplomatic efforts, Britain yesterday circulated a draft resolution, backed by the United States, France and Germany, to make compliance with a transition plan drafted by international envoy Mr Annan enforceable under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter.
This would allow the council to authorise actions ranging from diplomatic and economic sanctions to military intervention.
Mr Annan himself asked the 15-member council to agree on "clear consequences" if the Syrian government or opposition failed to comply with his plan, which has produced neither a ceasefire nor political dialogue since it was agreed in April.
The draft in particular threatens the Syrian government with sanctions if it does not stop using heavy weapons and withdraw its troops from towns and cities within 10 days.
But Dr Assad's chief backer on the UN security council, Russia, remained firmly in the Syrian leader's camp, having submitted its own draft resolution on Tuesday that made no mention of sanctions.
Russia's deputy UN ambassador Alexander Pankin told reporters after Mr Annan briefed the council in New York last night that Moscow believed sanctions were a "last resort".
Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent council members, have for months blocked attempts to increase the pressure on Dr Assad, endorsing his argument that he is defending his country against armed groups, backed by the West and by Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies, bent on toppling the government.