Sunday, January 21, 2018

High-level Syrian official defects over crackdown

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria's deputy oil minister defected and posted his parting words to President Bashar Assad in a video on YouTube Thursday, calling the regime criminal and urging his colleagues to also abandon the "sinking ship."

Abdo Husameddine's defection came at the height of international pressure against Assad's regime as it tries to suppress an uprising now morphing into an armed insurgency, with the United States considering options for military intervention.

The deputy minister is the highest-ranking civilian official to abandon the regime since the revolt against Assad's iron-fisted rule began a year ago.

"I don't wish to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime," Husameddine said in the video, dressed in a suit and tie and apparently reading from a piece of paper. ". . . I advise my colleagues who have been silent in the face of crimes for a year to abandon this sinking ship, which is about to drown."

It wasn't clear when or where the video was made and he did not disclose his current location. There was no comment from the regime in Damascus.

"I declare that I am joining the revolution of the dignified people," Husameddine said.

"You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness, and denied them their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss with your intransigence and detachment from reality. The economy of the country has reached near-collapse," he added.

Husameddine identified himself as an engineer and assistant to the oil minister. He said he was member of the ruling Baath Party, but was quitting, and said he had served 33 years in various government positions.

Assad's regime has suffered a steady stream of army defectors, but civilian government officials have remained largely loyal. That made Husameddine's defection all the more rare.

Meanwhile, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who got the first independent outside look at the Baba Amr district of Homs after a deadly monthlong siege, said Thursday she was struck by the devastation. She found the shattered neighborhood mostly empty after residents fled the fighting. Activists charge that Syrian forces conducted cleanup operations there, including executions and arrests.

"That part of Homs is completely destroyed, and I am concerned to learn what happened to the people in that part of the city," she said in the capital Damascus, a relatively peaceful stronghold of Assad's regime.

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