Reports emerging on Wednesday suggested that Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, has defected and is seeking asylum in Turkey, according to The New York Times.
As yet unconfirmed, the reports have been backed by members of the Syrian opposition, with Khaled Khoja of the Syrian National Council saying on Wednesday that he was "certain that Fares has defected," according to the Associated Press. Khoja said his information came straight from sources on the ground in Syria.
The Times said Fares' defection was first reported by Al Jazeera without a source, but was corroborated by Burhan Ghalioun, the former leader of the Syrian National Council (SNC), on the sidelines of a news conference in Moscow.
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Two members of the SNC also confirmed the news to CNN on Wednesday. Fares was sworn in as ambassador to Baghdad in September 2008, said CNN, citing Syrian state news agency SANA.
The Guardian reported that police in Baghdad surrounded the Syrian embassy, but could not confirm Fares' whereabouts. A senior Iraqi politician, Ayad Allawi, sent a message on Twitter on Wednesday, "Reliable sources have informed me of the defection of Nawaf Fares, Syria Ambassador to Iraq," according to the Guardian.
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The Times noted that if confirmed, this would be the second prominent defection from President Bashar al-Assad's government within a week. The first was Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas last Thursday. It would also be the first of any senior Syrian diplomat since the uprising began 16 months ago.
Last Friday, following the defection of Tlas, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said, "Regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet," according to CNN.
"Those who have the closest knowledge of Assad's actions and crimes are moving away, and we think that's a very promising development. And it also raises questions for those who remain in Damascus," she said.
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