Syrian envoy to Iraq defects

First senior diplomat to defect is from Deir Al Zor

Syria's ambassador to Iraq has defected in protest at President Bashar Al Assad's military crackdown on a 16-month popular uprising, Syrian opposition sources said on Wednesday.

Nawaf Al Fares, who was closely linked to the security establishment, would be the first senior Syrian diplomat to defect. He is from Deir al-Zor in eastern Syria, the scene of a ferocious military onslaught by Assad's forces.
"This is just the beginning of a series of defections on the diplomatic level. We are in touch with several ambassadors," said Mohamed Sermini of the main exiled opposition group, the Syrian National Council (SNC).

Fares' move followed the high profile flight abroad of General Manaf Tlas, who had been a close friend of Assad and a leading light among Sunni supporters of the president.

Lebanon detains Syrian activist

Meanwhile, Lebanese authorities have detained a Syrian dissident on the weekend upon his arrival from Egypt, activists and a security source said, as a watchdog expressed concern he could be deported to Syria.

Speaking to AFP, a security source confirmed the detention of Zakaria Mutlak, 26.

"He was wanted by Lebanon's military," the General Security source told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that a request had been put to all security agencies to cooperate in his detention.

"I don't know why he has been detained," the source said, adding that Mutlak was handed over to the military.

According to Beirut-based Syrian activist Kinan Ali, Mutlak was arrested at Beirut International Airport on July 8 as he stepped off a flight from Cairo.

"Mutlak was also one of the first activists to be detained in Syria when the revolt broke out," Ali said, adding that "he was forced to go on television in May last year and 'confess' that he was dealing with 'armed terrorists'."

Syrian authorities arrested Mutlak in the early days of the uprising that erupted in March last year but later released him, Ali said.

Earlier this year Mutlak was in the Homs city rebel stronghold of Baba Amr, which government troops pounded relentlessly for a month until seizing control of the neighbourhood in March.

"He left Syria around five months ago, after being wounded in Baba Amr," and travelled to Saudi Arabia for treatment before heading out to Egypt, Ali said.

The Syrian League for Human Rights issued a statement on Wednesday condemning Mutlak's arrest and expressing "deep concern" that Lebanese authorities could deport him to Syria.


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