Syria ambassador in Baghdad defects, joins rebel forces

Moscow has been the major ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad as he battles an armed uprising, but the source quoted by Interfax news agency said the ships’ mission had nothing to do with the conflict.

July 11, 2012 The Syrian ambassador in Iraq has announced that he no longer supports the regime of President Bashar Assad, according to a Wednesday Al Jazeera report.

If the report turns out to be true, this would be the first time that a member of the Syrian diplomatic corps has defected. So far only an army general, and defense officials have defected.

Nawaf Al – Fares has served as the Syrian ambassador in Baghdad since September 2008.

The defection of Al-Fares, who is considered a senior figure in the Syrian political system, came shortly after the defection of General Manaf Tlass, the son of former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, and once a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

According to a source in the Syrian defense establishment, Tlass fled after he understood that he would probably be arrested by Assad’s security forces, after Syrian intelligence found out that he was a member of the opposition and Syria’s rebel forces.

Earlier that week, it was reported that 85 soldiers from Assad’s army defected, including a general and 14 officers. The defectors fled to a refugee camp in Turkey, and joined some 2,000 soldiers who have defected from the Syrian army so far.

Syrian opposition talks with Russia on a political transition in Damascus ended in discord on Wednesday as an opposition leader said Moscow’s policies were helping to prolong the bloodshed in the pivotal Arab country.

“The Syrian people don’t understand Russia’s position. How can Russia keep supplying arms? How can they keep vetoing resolutions? There needs to be an end to mass killings,” said Burhan Ghalioun, former leader of the Syrian National Council.

Syria’s opposition has conditioned starting talks with the Damascus government on Assad relinquishing power. But Russia – long a big arms supplier to Damascus – has said this is unacceptable and not part of an international peace plan laid out by UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.

On Tuesday, Russia dispatched a destroyer-class warship to Syria, a source in the Russian Navy told Reuters, and another military source was quoted as saying four more Russian ships were en route to the violence-torn country.