Minister quits and joins rebellion against Assad

The Syrian opposition received a political boost yesterday when President Bashar al-Assad's Deputy Oil Minister announced his defection in a video posted on YouTube.

Abdo Hussameddin said he was acting in response to the Baathist regime's "brutal" crackdown against protesters. "I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime," he added.

Although thousands of soldiers have peeled away from the army and taken up arms against the government, Mr Hussameddin is the highest-ranking political official to defect since the uprising began in March last year.

In his video, which shows him sitting on a sofa wearing a suit and tie, he says he was an "assistant" to the Oil Minister and had served 33 years in different government positions.

Reading from a piece of paper, he says: "I, Abdo Hussameddin, Deputy Oil and Mineral Resources Minister, announce my defection from the regime and resignation from my post... and declare that I am joining the dignified people's revolution.

"I have joined the right path, knowing that this regime will burn down my house, hunt down my family and fabricate lies," he said.

Appearing to address President Assad directly, he adds: "You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow, denied them their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss."

The resignation was a boon to the Syrian National Council, the opposition movement which has struggled to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the international community. Walid al-Bunnie, a leading member, told The Independent: "This is the first top minister to resign. We hope to see more and more in the future."

Before yesterday, the highest-profile political defection had been Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of Hama, who resigned after a ferocious attack on demonstrators.