Last Updated: Thu Jul 12, 2012 16:59 pm (KSA) 13:59 pm (GMT)

Syria acknowledges defection of Iraq ambassador, says he was ‘discharged’

Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the embassy in Iraq will continue its normal duties despite ‘discharging’ its ambassador, Nawaf Fares. (Reuters)
Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the embassy in Iraq will continue its normal duties despite ‘discharging’ its ambassador, Nawaf Fares. (Reuters)

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq Nawaf Fares, who announced his defection to the opposition, has been “discharged,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Thursday.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs announces that Nawaf Fares has been discharged and has no relation with our embassy in Baghdad, or with the foreign ministry,” the statement said.

“Yesterday Nawaf al-Fares made statements to the media that are in contradiction with his duty, which consists of defending his country’s position,” the ministry added.

“Because of this he needs to be legally prosecuted and subjected to disciplinary action.”

The Syrian embassy in Baghdad would “continue its work as normal,” it said.

Fares defected on Wednesday and urged the army to turn its guns on the regime, becoming the first ambassador to abandon President Bashar al-Assad.

Defected ambassador in Qatar

Hours after Syria acknowledging the ambassador’s defection, Iraq’s foreign minister told reporters that Fares was in Qatar.

Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari told reporters in Paris that the defection came as a surprise, as Fares was loyal to Assad’s regime. Zebari was in Paris to inaugurate a new embassy.

Mortars in Damascus

Meanwhile, security forces fired mortars into a district on the outskirts of Damascus on Thursday, activists said, the first time an area in the Syrian capital has been shelled since the 16-month-old uprising against President Bashar al-Assad began.

Activists in the Kafar Souseh neighbourhood of Damascus said security forces were firing mortars into orchards on the outskirts of the city, close to the capital’s southern highway, to try to force out rebels they believe are hiding there.

“People are terrified, families are getting in their cars and rushing as fast as they can to other areas. About 200 people in my area have left so far,” said activist Hazem al-Aqad, speaking to Reuters on Skype.

Syrian activists reported Thursday’s initial death toll; they said that about 68 people were killed by the Syrian forces in Idlib and Hama.

Turkey’s waning stance

In a related story, Turkey said it has found no traces of explosives on the wreckage of a fighter jet it has claimed was downed by Syria, raising new questions about the incident that inflamed cross-border tensions.

“No traces of explosives or flammable products were found on the debris recovered from the sea,” a statement from Turkey’s general staff said on Wednesday, adding that other material was still being examined.

For the first time, the army also declined to use the term “shot down by Syria” instead referring to “our plane that Syria claimed to have destroyed.”

Turkey has previously maintained that the F-4 Phantom was shot down in international airspace over the eastern Mediterranean by Syrian fire on June 22, further souring relations between the one-time allies.

The two-man crew perished in the incident.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has denied reports that the country’s foreign minister called for greater pressure on Russia and China to stop supporting Assad’s regime during a meeting of Western and Arab nations in Paris, the Turkish newspaper, Today’s Azzaman reported on Thursday.

The Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu was reported saying in the meeting of about 100 delegations from countries and international organizations, that pressure should be increased on the Syrian regime and those supporting it.

“We should also support the opposition, those who work and fight against the regime,” he added.

While Davutoğlu explicitly did not mention Russia or China, the foreign ministry’s statement dismissed claims that he named the two countries.

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