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Another day, another defector from Assad's Syria

The Syrian ambassador to Iraq defected today, the second prominent Sunni to do so in two weeks. With their departures, Syria's Sunni vs. Alawite conflict hardens.

By Correspondent / July 12, 2012

In this September 2008 file photo, Nawaf Fares (l.) is sworn in as Syria's first ambassador to Iraq in 26 years before Syrian President Bashar al-Assad (r.), and Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Moallem in Damascus. On Thursday, July 11, Fares announced his resignation and will seek asylum in Turkey, the most senior diplomat to abandon the regime since the uprising against Assad began 16 months ago.

SANA/AP/File

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Beirut, Lebanon

The defection of another senior Sunni Syrian official in a week is a further signal of growing unease on the fringes of the Alawite-dominated regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. But the core of the regime appears to remain united and shows no sign of imminent collapse, suggesting that the confrontation will become more protracted and take on a harder sectarian edge in the weeks and months ahead.

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Nawaf Fares, who had served as Syria's ambassador to Baghdad since 2008, yesterday announced his resignation from the ruling Baath Party and said he was joining the opposition to the Assad regime.

"I call on all party members to do the same because the regime has transformed it into a tool to oppress the people and their real aspirations to freedom and dignity," he told the Al Jazeera Arabic after traveling to Qatar.

In response, the Syrian foreign ministry said that Mr. Fares had been "discharged" for making statements "that are in contradiction with his duty," adding that he could be prosecuted and subjected to "disciplinary action."

Fares, a Sunni, is the head of the powerful Uqaydat tribe that straddles the Syria-Iraq border. He is also a former governor of Deir ez Zour, a large town in eastern Syria where regime and opposition forces regularly clash.

His public defection came a week after Manaf Tlass, a top army general and close friend of Mr. Assad since childhood, left Syria for France. Unlike Fares, General Tlass has made no public statement explaining his departure from Syria or outlining his future plans. Some reports suggest his faith in the regime collapsed following the Syrian army's onslaught against the city of Homs and the surrounding area, which includes the Tlass family's hometown of Rastan. Some of the strongest rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) units operate in the Homs area. One of them, the Farouq Battalion, is headed by Abdul Razaq Tlass, a cousin of Manaf Tlass, perhaps underlining his conflicting tugs of loyalty.

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