Syria's deputy oil minister has defected to the country's opposition movement, the most senior member of Bashar al-Assad's government to do so since the uprising against his rule began around a year ago.
Abdo Hussameddin announced his resignation on Thursday in a video posted on YouTube, saying he was joining the revolt.
"I, the engineer Abdo Hussameddin, the deputy oil minister … announce my defection from the regime and my resignation," he said in the video. "I am joining the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime, which is seeking to crush the people's demand for freedom and dignity."
Hussameddin went on to denounce Russia and China for supporting Assad, saying they were not "friends of the Syrian people but partners in the killing of the Syrian people."
Baba Amr deserted
Meanwhile, a convoy sent by the Syrian Arab Red Crescent into the shattered Homs district of Baba Amr found that most residents had fled the neighborhood on Wednesday.
The team of aid workers that entered the area, which has been under siege for almost a month, found it was almost deserted.
"The Syrian Arab Red Crescent stayed inside Baba Amr for about 45 minutes. They found that most inhabitants had left," ICRC spokesman Hicham Hassan told Reuters in Geneva.
The ICRC distributed aid on Wednesday to many of the areas in and around Homs where refugees from Baba Amr are believed to have fled.
Claims of killings
The visit comes after a ground attack on the area, which was regained from rebels by government troops last Thursday. Earlier in the week, there were reports that atrocities had been committed by regime forces in the reclaimed neighborhood, including the killing of boys as young as 12.
Red Crescent teams evacuated 30 people in need of medical attention from Baba Amr on their past two visits - the last being 10 days ago.
UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos arrived in Damascus on Wednesday for talks with officials from the Assad regime.
During the discussions, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem was reported to have told Amos that his government was ready to cooperate in giving her team access to Homs and other cities ravaged by recent fighting.
Countries seeking a resolution against the Assad regime are believed to be awaiting the results of Amos' trip, as well as a visit by the new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Kofi Annan, on the weekend.
dfm, rc/cmk (AFP, Reuters)