REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- A video posted Thursday on YouTube shows a man identified as Syria’s deputy oil minister announcing his defection from the government, apparently marking the highest-ranking defection to date during the yearlong uprising against President Bashar Assad.
On the YouTube clip, shown widely on international news channels, Abdo Hussameddin says he can no longer serve “the crimes of this regime.” The longtime oil sector official says he anticipates that the government will burn his house and “persecute” his family.
There was no official word from the government, and the authenticity of the video could not immediately be independently confirmed.
If true, Hussameddin would become the highest-ranking official to abandon Assad’s regime. He would presumably have considerable knowledge about oil sector insider dealings that are reputed to have enriched members of Assad’s inner circle.
However, analysts were split over the significance of his reported defection. Hussameddin is not regarded as especially close to the Syrian leadership. And his possible departure may be an isolated incident, not indicative of deeper fissures in the government.
But the defection would be a blow to the government’s narrative of cohesion and loyalty despite nearly a year of rebellion that has seen thousands killed and some areas of the country slip into the hands of armed rebels. The revolt has seen many defections from the Syrian military, but not of its highest-ranking officers.
Pro-government websites and Facebook pages were already reportedly dismissing the importance of the defection, describing Hussameddin as corrupt, noted one Syrian analyst.
In Cairo, meanwhile, Kofi Annan, special envoy to Syria from the United Nations and the Arab League, said a political solution was needed for the Syria crisis. The former U.N. secretary-general warned against any moves that would escalate the violence in Syria.
"We have to be careful that we don’t introduce a medicine that is worse than the disease," said Annan, who is scheduled to arrive in Damascus on Saturday in an effort to craft a cease-fire.
His comments come as several nations, including Saudi Arabia and Qatar, have publicly backed the idea of arming Syria's rebels. Many activists say the time for dialogue with Assad is over and the president must step down from office. Assad, whose family has ruled for more than 40 years, has said he would never abandon his post.
-- Patrick J. McDonnell
Photo: This image from amateur video released by Aljizahnews on Thursday purports to show a Syrian deputy oil minister defecting from the government. Credit: Aljizahnews