Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, has defected to the opposition and is now in Qatar. Fares is the first senior member of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to defect. Through Al Jazeera, he has issued a statement urging the Syrian military to join the revolution and calling on Syrians to join together in the face of the regime’s attempts to divide them:
“I urge all honest members of this party to follow my path because the regime has turned it [the party] to an instrument to kill people and their aspiration to freedom.”
Syria has responded by firing Fares, saying that he “has been relieved of his duties.”
Fares had held senior positions under Assad’s father, the late president Hafez al-Assad, and is from Deir al-Zour, an eastern city that has been heavily bombarded by Assad’s forces. According to the BBC, Fares is also the chief of a Sunni tribe on Syria’s eastern border with Iraq. His defection is a serious blow to Assad’s regime and, along with the defection last week of Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general and friend of Assad’s, a sign of “people losing confidence” in the regime.
However, nearly a week after his defection, Tlas has yet to be seen in public and has not yet contacted the opposition, leaving in question whether the initial reports of his defection were “exaggerated.”
Western Powers Issue 10-day Sanctions Ultimatum
Western nations are now putting pressure on the United Nations to threaten Syria with sanctions even while the UN is deliberating about extending the mandate for its observer mission to Syria, which is set to expire on July 20.
Invoking Chapter 7 of the UN charter, Britain, France, the US and Germany want a ten-day ultimatum to be part of a Security Council resolution. Under its terms, Syria would be hit with sanctions if it does not withdraw troops from towns and cities and cease to use heavy weapons.
The UN observer mission had been given ninety days to monitor a truce negotiated by special envoy Kofi Annan. But while a ceasefire was called for, fighting has continued, with violence only increasing. Russia had requested a “simple rollover” of the 90-day mission but Western powers have demanded that compliance with the ceasefire be mandatory.
From leaked minutes of Annan’s meeting with Assad, Annan has confirmed that the topic of a transitional government has been discussed with Assad. As a possible mediator, Assad has suggested Dr. Ali Haidar, the minister of state for national reconciliation affairs. But Syrian activists have indicated that they will be demonstrating against Annan’s initiative in this Friday’s protests, calling Annan the “servant of Assad and Iran.”
Government forces have reportedly shelled an area of Damascus. Human Rights Watch says that cluster bombs, which are widely banned, may be in use in Syria based on evidence from videos showing remnants of the devices.
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Photo of rebels in Deir al-Zour by Freedom House