Two more Syrian diplomats quit as battle rages over Aleppo

Jul 26, 2012

Defections came as opposition leaders meet in Qatar to debate what happens when Assad falls

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TWO more Syrian diplomats have defected from the Assad regime, it has been confirmed by the White House. A husband and wife team, they are Abdelatif al-Dabbagh, the ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, and Lamia al-Hariri (pictured above), Syria's charge d'affaires in Cyprus. Like the Syrian ambassador to Iraq who defected earlier this month, they have both fled to Qatar.

The Qatari capital Doha is where the anti-Assad Syrian National Council is meeting today to debate what should happen if/when the Assad regime finally falls. Some want a civilian administration. Others believe an Egyptian-style military council is the answer.

The Guardian expects a bitter debate. The papers says Riyad Sief, a respected dissident, is a leading contender to head a civilian administration, while the high-profile defector Brigadier General Manaf Tlass (see below) is being mooted as the best man to run a military operation. He is considered capable of keeping the Syrian armed forces "intact and loyal".

The Doha debate comes as Assad's forces desperately try to reverse rebel advances in Aleppo. The BBC correspondent Ian Pannell says the battle for Syria's second city is now raging and that neither side can afford to lose.

"For the armed opposition, losing would be a disastrous setback that, at the very least, could neuter their revolution for months," says Pannell. "For President Bashar al-Assad, losing Aleppo could be the tipping point that presages the downfall of his government."


THE AMBASSADOR: Syria's Ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, was the first senior diplomat to join the revolution when he announced his departure in a video statement on 11 July.  He called on Syrian soldiers to follow his lead and turn their guns on the Damascus leadership. A member of the Syrian National Council told Reuters at the time: "This is just the beginning of a series of defections on the diplomatic level. We are in touch with several ambassadors."

THE GENERAL: Manaf Tlass, a member of Assad's inner circle, who attended military training with the president, defected to France via Turkey on 6 July. Like Ambassador Fares, he was a Sunni, one of only a few in Syria's upper security apparatus mostly dominated by the Assad family's minority Alawite sect. Ahead of today's meeting in Doha, Tlass called on the opposition to unite and urged the military to abandon Assad.

THE TV PRESENTER: Ghatan Sleiba, who worked for the pro Assad al-Dunya channel and the state-owned al-Akhbariya network, arrived in Turkey after his defection on 26 June. Sleiba accused regime intelligence units of sending a gang to attack him with a knife and stealing more than £1,300, then blaming the attack on rebels.

THE PILOT: Colonel Hassan Hammadeh, a Syrian fighter pilot, defected on 21 June after flying his MiG-21 warplane on a training mission to Jordan. His was the first defection by an air force officer since the uprising began in March 2011. It was especially significant as Assad's late father and predecessor Hafez was an air force pilot and commander.

THE OIL MINISTER: Abdo Husameddin, an expert in petroleum engineering and became Oil Minister in 2009 . He defected on 7 March with a video denunciation. He was at the time the first regime member and the highest-ranking civilian to announce his defection publicly.

Reporting by Brittany Poulin

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