- Associated Press - Thursday, March 8, 2012

BEIRUT (AP) — Syria’s deputy oil minister announced his defection in an online video that emerged Thursday, making him the highest ranking civilian official to abandon the regime since the uprising against President Bashar Assad erupted a year ago.

Abdo Husameddine’s announcement came one day after the top U.S. general said President Obama has asked for a preliminary review of military options in Syria, as the conflict grows increasingly dire. The U.N. estimates 7,500 people have been killed.

“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime,” Mr. Husameddine said in a video posted on YouTube, adding that he was joining “the dignified people’s revolution.”

He appeared to address Mr. 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,” said Mr. Husameddine, wearing a suit and tie and appearing to be reading from a paper.

It was not clear when or where the video was made. There was no comment from Damascus.

Mr. Husameddine identified himself as an “assistant” to the oil minister and a member of the ruling Baath Party and said he has served 33 years in various government positions. Cabinet ministers in Syria may have several assistants known as deputies.

The defection came as international condemnation on Mr. Assad mounts.

On Wednesday, the U.N. humanitarian chief, Baroness Valerie Amos, got the first independent outside look at the Baba Amr district of Homs following a deadly monthlong siege. The military took control of Baba Amr on March 1, but Baroness Amos was allowed in only Wednesday.

She said Thursday she was struck by the devastation she saw in the shattered neighborhood. She found it mostly empty after residents fled the fighting. Activists charge that Syrian forces conducted cleanup operations there, including executions and arrests.

“The devastation there is significant. That part of Homs is completely destroyed, and I am concerned to learn what happened to the people in that part of the city,” Baroness Amos said in Damascus, a relatively peaceful stronghold of Mr. Assad’s regime.

“I have been struck by the difference between what I have seen here in Damascus and what I saw yesterday in Baba Amr,” she added.

But shortly after she spoke, Syrian security forces opened fire to disperse mourners in Mazzeh, an upscale neighborhood of Damascus. The crowd had gathered for the funeral of a soldier who allegedly was executed last month for refusing to obey orders to shoot at civilians in Homs.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said scores of people were arrested as security forces attacked the crowd in Mazzeh. There was no word of casualties.

In Cairo, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said his top priority as special envoy to Syria is to end the violence and deliver badly needed aid.

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