High-ranking Syrian minister quits
Amman - Syrian Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameldin has announced his defection on YouTube, becoming the first high-ranking civilian official to abandon President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted a year ago.
"I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party," Hussameldin said in the video, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed.
"I join the revolution of this dignified people," he said in the video uploaded on Wednesday and seen early on Thursday.
He said he had been in government for 33 years but did not want to end his career "serving the crimes of this regime", adding: "I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime will burn my house and persecute my family."
Syrian security forces have killed more than 7 500 civilians during the crackdown on pro-democracy protests, according to the United Nations, and the outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing.
While saying very preliminary military planning was under way, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday defended US caution in trying to end the violence, despite criticism from legislators who questioned how many people would have to die before the Obama administration used force.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos saw a scene of devastation and near desertion on Wednesday when she visited the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs that was shelled by the military for nearly a month after becoming a rebel holdout.
Hussameldin said: "I say to this regime: you have inflicted on those who you claim are your people a whole year of sorrow and sadness, denying them basic life and humanity and driving Syria to the edge of the abyss."
Assad appointed Hussameldin, 58, to his current position through a presidential decree in 2009. He said the country's economy was "near collapse". There was no mention of the defection on Syrian state media.
Wearing a suit and tie, Hussameldin looked relaxed as he looked directly into the camera in a tight head and shoulders shot, appearing to read from a prepared statement on his lap as he sat on a dark grey chair against a yellow background.
Opposition sources say the government, controlled by Assad's minority Alawite sect that has dominated power in Syria for the past five decades, has effectively stopped functioning in provinces that have been at the forefront of the uprising, such as Homs and the northwest province of Idlib.
But public defections have remained rare among the civilian branches of the state, despite thousands of the mostly Sunni soldiers and conscripts who make the bulk of the army deserting since the uprising broke out last March.
Amos is hoping to secure access for humanitarian organisations, which have been barred from the zones of heaviest conflict.
Syria had initially failed to grant Amos access to the country but relented after Damascus's allies Russia and China joined the rest of the UN Security Council in a rare rebuke of Syria for not allowing her in.
"It was like a closed-down city and there were very few people around," Amanda Pitt, a spokesperson for the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said of Amos's visit to Baba Amr on Wednesday, adding it "looked like it was devastated from the fighting and shelling".