Defecting Syrian envoy now in Qatar: Iraq

Nawaf Fares is the highest profile diplomat to defect in the Syrian uprising and the second prominent figure to leave the regime in a week.

Zeenews Bureau

Beirut: Nawaf al-Fares, the Syrian ambassador to Iraq who defected on Wednesday, is in Qatar, Iraq`s Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari announced on Thursday.

Speaking to reporters in the French capital Paris, Zebari said the defection by al-Fares came as a surprise.

Earlier, Khaled Khoja, a member of the opposition Syrian National Council, had said that al-Fares was heading to Turkey.

Al-Fares is the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime since the uprising against President Bashar Assad began 16 months ago.

In the meantime, Syria`s Foreign Ministry says it has fired al-Fares.

In a statement reported by Syria`s state news agency on Thursday, the ministry said al-Fares had been "relieved of his duties" and should face "legal and disciplinary accountability”.

After defecting, al-Fares urged the Army to "turn your guns on the criminals" of al-Assad`s government.

In a video statement on Facebook on Wednesday, al-Fares said: "I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people".

"I ask ... the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens. Turn your guns on the criminals from this regime ...”

"Every Syrian man has to join the revolution to remove this nightmare and this gang," he said, accusing the Assad family and its allies of corruption and "destroying society" for 40 years.

Last week, France announced the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, an Assad confidant and son of a former defence minister who helped ease Assad into power.

Tlass was the highest ranking official to abandon the regime so far, and Western powers and anti-regime activists hoped his departure would encourage others to leave, too.

Thousands of soldiers, most of them low-level conscripts, have deserted and joined the rebels.

But despite the high-profile defections in recent days, Assad`s regime has largely held together in the face of the uprising, particularly compared with the swift haemorrhaging of Muammar Gaddafi`s inner circle in Libya in 2011.

(With Agency inputs)

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