Man said to be Syria oil deputy defects online

An image taken from a video posted to YouTube shows a man identifying himself as Syrian deputy oil minister Abdo Husameddine announcing his defection from the Syrian government.

Updated 3:35 p.m.

(CBS/AP) BEIRUT - A man purporting to be Syria's deputy oil minister has announced his defection in an online video that emerged Thursday, saying he is joining the opposition against President Bashar Assad's regime to protest its brutal crackdown that has killed thousands so far.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland stressed that Washington was "not able to authenticate the YouTube video." Nuland added "if true, it would be absolutely in keeping with the calls the Secretary and President have been making for senior members of the regime to break with Assad."

If confirmed, this would be the highest ranking Syrian government official to defect since the uprising began a year ago. There have been scores of army defections who have joined a group of dissidents known as the Free Syrian Army, but civilian government officials have remained largely loyal to Assad's regime.

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The Free Syrian Army and another rebel group said Thursday four more high-ranking officers defected from the Syrian armed forces, Reuters reported.

In the video posted on YouTube, a man wearing a suit and tie identified himself as Abdo Husameddine and said he is an "assistant" to the oil minister. Ministers in Syria may have several assistants known as deputies.

Husameddine said he was also a member of the ruling Baath Party and declared his resignation.

"I, Abdo Hussameddine, deputy oil and mineral resources minister, announce my defection from the regime and resignation from my post ... and declare that I am joining the dignified people's revolution," he said.

Sitting on a sofa and reading from a paper, Husameddine said he is defecting because of Assad's "brutal" onslaught on the opposition and the Syrian people. He appeared to address Assad directly.

"You have inflicted on those you claim are your people a full year of sorrow and sadness, denied them the their basic rights to life and humanity and pushed the country to the edge of the abyss," he said.

It was not clear when or where the video was filmed, and there was no immediate comment from Damascus.

"I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime," said Husameddine, adding that has served 33 years in various government positions.

There have been numerous military defections recently, including Syrian brigadier-general Mostafa Ahmad al-Sheik who fled to Turkey in January, becoming the highest-ranking officer to defect.

In the video, Husameddine said he was defecting "knowing full well that this regime will burn my home, persecute my family and make up a lot of lies."

"I advise my colleagues ... to abandon this sinking ship," he added. The U.N. says more than 7,500 people have been killed since Syria's uprising began. Activists put the death toll at more than 8,000.

Evidence continues to mount that Assad's regime has used extreme violence - even torture - against Syrian civilians who challenge his leadership by joining street protests.

Video shot secretly inside a Syrian military hospital in the battered city of Homs shows apparent opposition members blindfolded and shackled to their beds with rusty chains.

CBS News correspondent Clarissa Ward reports that, according to a hospital staffer-turned whistleblower, the men were tortured by doctors at the hospital for their links to the opposition. The whistleblower claims he saw doctors twist civilians' feet until their legs broke, beat them with rods, and electrocute them during interrogations.

Click on the player below to see Clarissa Ward's full report on the alleged hospital torture.