Senior official defects as Annan heads to Damascus

Senior official defects as Annan heads to Damascus

Senior official defects as Annan heads to Damascus

UN Humanitarian Chief Amos (L) meets with Syrian FM Muallem in Damascus on March 7. AP photo

Syria’s deputy oil minister resigned yesterday, becoming the most senior official to join the rebel ranks, as diplomatic efforts gained pace with the U.N.-Arab League special envoy heading to Damascus and U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos’ visiting Homs.

Abdo Hussameddin announced his resignation in a video posted by activists on YouTube, saying he was joining the revolt. “I, the engineer Abdo Hussameddin, the deputy oil minister... announce my defection from the regime and my resignation,” he said in the video. “I am joining the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime, which is seeking to crush the people’s demand for freedom and dignity,” he added.

The boost for the rebels came as U.N.-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan said that further militarization in Syria will worsen a conflict that has left thousands dead in a year. “I believe further militarization will make the situation worse,” he told reporters in Cairo after talks with Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi, Agence France-Presse reported. Annan also appealed to Syria’s opposition to join his mission’s efforts to resolve the conflict. Annan and his deputy, former Palestinian foreign minister Nasser al-Qudwa, are expected to travel Syria today. Their trip was initially scheduled for tomorrow.

On the ground, U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos said yesterday that the Baba Amr district of the Syrian city of Homs was devastated by an assault by government forces and the fate of people who live there was unclear. “The devastation there is significant, that part of Homs is completely destroyed and I am concerned to know what has happened to the people who live in that part of the city,” Amos told Reuters after leaving a meeting with ministers in Damascus. Amos is the first senior international figure to visit Baba Amr since the government launched its assault against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad. She met Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on March 7.

Two explosions yesterday struck security posts in the northern Syrian town of Aazaz, neighborhood in Aleppo, site of fierce clashes between government and rebel troops, a monitoring group said. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement that one blast targeted an intelligence office and the second a police station.