Syria's deputy oil minister announced on Thursday that he has defected from President Bashar Assad's regime, The Associated Press reported.
Abdo Husameddine, a 58-year-old father of four, became the highest-ranking civilian official to join the opposition, the report noted, and he urged his countrymen to “abandon this sinking ship” as the nation spirals toward civil war.
In a video that was posted to YouTube, Husameddine seemed to address Assad directly, accusing him of vast crimes in the past year as government forces pummel the opposition with tanks and snipers.
“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,” Husameddine said in the video.
“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime,” he added. “I declare that I am joining the revolution of the dignified people.”
The authenticity of the video could not be verified, AP reported, and Husameddine did not disclose his location. Husameddine also acknowledged he expects government forces to “burn my home” and “persecute my family,” the report said.
Assad's regime has suffered a steady stream of low-level army defectors, who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, now numbering in the thousands.
Brig. Gen. Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik, who fled to Turkey in January, was the highest ranking officer to bolt, AP reported. In late August, Adnan Bakkour, the attorney general of the central city of Hama, appeared in a video announcing he had defected. He has not been heard from since.
Also in January, a top Syrian Air Force colonel defected to the opposition along with dozens of other Syrian Army soldiers.
Civilian officials, like Husameddine, have remained largely loyal, making his announcement noteworthy, AP noted.
Husameddine appealed to other officials to follow his lead.
“I advise my colleagues who have been silent in the face of crimes for a year to abandon this sinking ship, which is about to drown,” AP quoted him as having said. “The blood of martyrs will not forgive those who continue to conspire with them under the justification that they are employees or carrying out orders.”
He also spoke to the Alawites, saying they have no reason to support the regime.
“I advise the Alawite community and say to them, ‘The Syrian people is your safety net, and the regime will doubtlessly go, so don't be partners in killing your people,’” he said.
Meanwhile on Thursday, UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos, who on Wednesday got the first independent outside look at the Baba Amr district of Homs following a deadly siege, said she was struck by the devastation she saw.
“That part of Homs is completely destroyed, and I am concerned to learn what happened to the people in that part of the city,” AP quoted her as having said in the capital of Damascus.
Activists allege that Syrian forces conducted cleanup operations in Baba Amr, including execution-style killings and arrests.