Syria ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, defects from Assad's regime

A still from a YouTube video reportedly showing Nawaf al-Fares announcing he has defected from Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government. CBS News/YouTube

Updated at 5:10 a.m. Eastern.

(CBS/AP) Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf al-Fares, announced on Wednesday he has defected from President Bashar Assad's government, and will be supporting the opposition.

Al-Fares said in a video statement posted online that he decided to make the switch after what he described as a horrible massacre carried out by the Assad regime.

"I announced my resignation as Syrian ambassador to Iraq as I also declare my defection from the Syrian Baath party," al-Fares said in the video statement.

The defection represents another major blow to Assad and his attempt to quash the 16-month-old uprising against his rule. CBS News' Khaled Wassef reports that al-Fares is from Deir Ezzor, an area which has become the scene of major military operations to hunt down army defectors in recent weeks. He previously served as governor of Qunaitara, Lattakia and Idlib - the capital of the Idlib province, which has become a firm opposition stronghold - before becoming Syria's top diplomat in Baghdad in 2008.

Al-Fares' defection could be the sign of a coming wave of high-level defections, Syrian opposition members told al Jazeera. The Arabic satellite channel conducted an extensive interview with al-Fares about his defection, which was to air Thursday afternoon.

The diplomat's abandonment of Assad's regime comes close on the heels of another top-level defection. Last week, Brigadier General Manaf Tlass, a long-time friend and member of Assad's inner circle, Brig. Gen. Tlass not 1st from his powerful family to defect

Bassam Imadi, the former Syrian ambassador to Sweden, defected this past December.

Officials with the Syrian opposition and the Turkish government say hundreds of Syrian soldiers have defected and either sought refuge across the border, or joined in the fight against Assad's forces inside Syria since the uprising began.

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