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Middle East

PM welcomes Syria defection reports


Downing Street today welcomed reports that a Syrian minister has defected from the government of Bashar al-Assad and joined the rebels.

Deputy oil minister Abdo Husameddine announced in an online video that he was quitting the regime because of the “brutal” crackdown on dissent which has led to thousands of deaths over the past year.

He is the highest-ranking civilian figure to abandon President Assad's administration, following a stream of thousands of defections from the military to join the Free Syrian Army.

In the video posted on YouTube, Mr Husameddine identified himself as a member of the ruling Baath Party who has served in various government positions for 33 years and said he was now “joining the dignified people's revolution”.

And he addressed a message to Assad: “You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness, denied them their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss.

“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime.”

Prime Minister David Cameron's official spokesman said: “If confirmed, this is an important moment.

“It would be the highest-ranking civilian defection so far and would follow a number of military defections recently.

“We have been very clear that we believe that regime has no legitimacy and we would urge others to step away from the regime and support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people.”

Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain was still continuing to work for a United Nations Security Council resolution based on an Arab League plan calling for Mr Assad to step down, paving the way for the transition to a new government.

Giving evidence to the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, he said Russia and China were paying a “diplomatic price” throughout the Arab world for having used their vetoes to block a previous attempt to agree a resolution.

“If our view is correct that the Assad regime cannot recover its credibility internationally or internally after spilling so much blood and that one way or another it is doomed, then it is in the national interest of Russia and China to support a political transition at some stage,” he said.

Mr Hague said Britain was continuing to supply “non-lethal” assistance - such as communications equipment - to opposition groups outside Syria.

However, the Government had so far not provided support to groups inside the country - in part because of concerns that it could fall into the hands of al Qaida which is now reported to be operating in Syria.

“That is a consideration in trying to provide practical assistance,” he said. “That is one of the constraints upon us.”

He also played down the prospect of opening up international humanitarian aid corridors into Syria, saying it would require “overwhelming military force” unless the Syrian government was prepared to allow access, which it has so far refused.