FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2008 file photo provided by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Nawaf Fares, left, is sworn in as Syria’s first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years before Syrian President Bashar Assad, right, and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in Damascus. Fares has defected and will seek asylum in Turkey, the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime since the uprising against Assad began 16 months ago, a Syrian opposition figure said Wednesday, July 11, 2012. (AP Photo/SANA, File)
ISTANBUL (AP) — The Syrian ambassador to Iraq has defected, denouncing President Bashar Assad in a TV statement Wednesday, becoming the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime during a bloody 16-month uprising.
Nawaf Fares, a former provincial governor, is the second prominent Syrian to break with the regime in less than a week. Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, an Assad confidant and son of a former defense minister, fled Syria last week, buoying Western powers and anti-regime activists, who expressed hope that other high-ranking defections would follow.
The high-level defections could be a sign that Assad’s tightly wrapped regime is unraveling, but it was too early to be certain. There have been thousands of defections in the past, mostly low-level army conscripts, but until now no one as senior as the general and the ambassador had fled.
In a statement broadcast on the Arabic satellite channel Al-Jazeera, Fares said he was resigning and joining the opposition. Wearing a dark suit and reading from a prepared text in what appeared to be a large office, Fares harshly criticized Assad.
“I’m announcing from this moment on that I’m siding with the revolution in Syria,” he said, according to the Al-Jazeera translation into English. He called on all Syrians to abandon Assad.
“Where is the honor in killing your countrymen? Where is the national allegiance? The nation is all the people, not one person in particular,” he said. “The allegiance is to the people, not to a Login to read more