Cairo/Beirut: Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, said he would urge President Bashar al-Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution, drawing angry rebukes from dissidents.
"The killing has to stop and we need to find a way of putting in the appropriate reforms and moving forward," Annan said on Thursday in Cairo ahead of his trip to Damascus on Saturday.
Syrian dissidents reacted with dismay and said government repression had destroyed prospects of a negotiated deal. More than 7,500 people have been killed in a year-long crackdown on an uprising against Assad, according to the United Nations.
"We reject any dialogue while tanks shell our towns, snipers shoot our women and children and many areas are cut off from the world by the regime without electricity, communications or water," said Hadi Abdullah, contacted in the city of Homs.
Another activist said Annan`s call for dialogue sounded "like a wink at Bashar" that would only encourage Assad to "crush the revolution".
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, on a separate mission to Syria, said she was "devastated" by the destruction she had seen in the Baba Amr district of Homs city, and wanted to know what had happened to its residents, who endured a 26-day military siege before rebel fighters withdrew a week ago.
Amos is the first senior foreign official to visit Baba Amr since the government assault.
As world pressure on Syria mounted, the deputy oil minister announced his defection, the first by a senior civilian official since the start of the uprising. Abdo Hussameldin, 58, said he knew his change of sides would bring persecution on his family.
Two rebel groups later said four more high-ranking military officers had defected over the past three days to a camp for Syrian army deserters in southern Turkey.
Lieutenant Khaled al-Hamoud, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army (FSA), said by telephone the desertions brought to seven the number of brigadier generals who had defected.
In Damascus, the authorities continued to crack down on Assad opponents, with government forces shooting and wounding three mourners at a funeral for an army defector that turned into a protest against the president, locals said.
Opposition sources and residents say protests in the capital are driven by inflation and the plunging value of the Syrian pound.