Syria threatens to punish defector


SYRIA’S FOREIGN ministry yesterday said that Nawaf al-Fares, the country’s defecting ambassador to Iraq, had been “relieved of his duties” for abandoning his post “without permission” and could face “legal and disciplinary accountability”.

Mr Fares, the second senior defector from Syria’s diplomatic corps, fled to Qatar, prime mover of the anti-regime Arab camp, and called on the military to stand against the government in a statement broadcast by al-Jazeera, the Qatari satellite channel.

Mr Fares said he had defected to the opposition from the regime and the ruling Baath party following “massacres” of Syrians committed by the army.

“I urge all honest members of this party to follow my path,” he said, because the party had become “an instrument to kill people and their aspiration for freedom”.

Mr Fares, a Sunni from the oil hub of Deir al-Zor, was the first Syrian ambassador to be posted to Baghdad in three decades.

The first head of mission to defect was Bassam Imadi, who had been posted to Sweden.

Mr Fares’s defection followed the flight to Paris of Brig Gen Manaf Tlass, a close friend of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and son of Mustafa Tlass, who was defence minister for 30 years.

Brig Gen Tlass has not, however, announced his intention to join the opposition. It is suspicious of him as he had been under house arrest at the time of his escape and his departure would have been difficult, if not impossible, without the co-operation of the regime.

Meanwhile, UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan said that during his meeting with Dr Assad, the formation of a transitional government had been discussed and Dr Assad had named Syrian minister for national reconciliation Ali Haidar as the interlocutor for Damascus. Mr Annan’s team is set to investigate his background to decide on his suitability.

Dr Haidar heads the Syrian Social National Party, which says it is a domestic opposition group. In the run-up to the May parliamentary election, Dr Haidar, who was contesting a seat, was attacked by anti-regime gunmen.

In New York, the UN Security Council has begun discussion of two resolutions on Syria. The first, circulated by Russia, calls for the extension of the mandate of the UN monitoring mission.

The second, sponsored by Britain, France, Germany and the US, condemns the use by Damascus of heavy weapons, demands an immediate end to violence by government and opposition forces, and calls for non-military sanctions against the government if it does not comply within 10 days.

Human Rights Watch has reported that opposition activists say Soviet-manufactured cluster munitions have been used in a mountainous area near Hama, which has been under attack for two weeks.

If verified, this would be the first evidence of the use of such weapons, allegedly, by Syrian armed forces.

Meanwhile, the Turkish armed services have stated that “no traces of explosives or flammable products” were found on debris of a military aircraft which is believed to have been shot down by Syrian gunners on June 22nd.

The announcement could ease tension between Turkey and Syria ahead of Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Russia next week.