GENEVA, Switzerland: In another blow to the Assad regime, Syria’s top representative at the UN Human Rights Council said Monday he had defected because he no longer felt able in that position to do anything for the Syrian people.
“Basically, when I felt I could not help my people any more I had to move on,” Danny Al-Baaj, the first Syrian diplomat in Switzerland to abandon Bashar Assad’s regime, told AFP.
“When I was involved in any negotiations (on Syria) my concern was to protect the country not the government,” he added.
Al-Baaj's move comes a week after Syria's Prime Minister Riyad Hijab defected along with other top officials and military commanders.
Thousands of military officers have also switched sides over the past months, many of them fleeing to Turkey before returning to Syria to join rebel forces.
Baaj said he took his decision a long time ago and had been in contact with Syrian opposition group the Democratic Forum based in Paris.
He had been in Geneva for two years and met the opposition group “some time ago,” before announcing his resignation last Friday, he said.
“I met the charge d’affaires (of Syria in Geneva) and I told him I had made my decision that I was going to the opposition... He said it was my choice and he wished me luck.”
Speaking from Geneva where he is considering his next move, Baaj described the Democratic Forum as one of the main opposition groups. It is headed by Michel Kilo, a long-time opponent of the regime.
The development comes ahead of the release on Wednesday of an official UNHRC independent commission of inquiry report into Syria.
Baaj said he “hoped” the Geneva-based body would make progress toward consensus on the situation in Syria despite many countries letting their own agendas interfere with finding a solution.
“At the last session the HRC was very close to reaching consensus ... I hope different countries put aside their agendas to help the Syrian people,” he said.
Baaj also stressed his opposition to outside military intervention in the conflict but supported the role of the UN’s Supervision Mission in Syria (UNSMIS), calling it “a good thing.”
“I hope it stays there. It’s very important to document abuses by both sides,” he said.
In Damascus, the head of the United Nations monitors in Syria said violence was intensifying across the country, blaming both Assad’s forces and rebel fighters for ignoring the plight of civilians.
“It is clear that violence is increasing in many parts of Syria,” Gen. Babacar Gaye, head of the UN Supervision Mission in Syria, told journalists in Damascus.
“The indiscriminate use of heavy weapons by the government and targeted attacks by the opposition in urban centers are inflicting a heavy toll on innocent civilians.
“I deeply regret that none of the parties has prioritised the needs of civilians.”
Activists say more than 18,000 people, including soldiers, rebels and civilians, have been killed since the start of the Syrian uprising against Assad in March last year.
Assad’s forces are battling to regain control of the biggest city, Aleppo, from rebel fighters who went on the offensive last month, seizing districts of the capital and the northern commercial hub, as well as several border crossings.
Free Syrian Army rebels also control towns and villages in a wide swathe of territory near the northern border with Turkey.
Assad’s forces have hit back, regaining much of Damascus and bombarding opposition strongholds in and around the capital. Residents reported overnight shelling from the Qassioun mountains overlooking north Damascus into Jobar neighborhood.
Activists also reported shelling in the northern Damascus suburb of Tell, which they say has been under rebel control for two weeks, and in Muadamiya suburb, where they said four men had been found executed after troops pulled out.
State television said the army was battling rebels in the city of Homs and had attacked “terrorist lairs” in the town of Talbiseh to the north.
The mandate for the UN monitors, whose original mission was to observe an April cease-fire that never took hold, expires on Aug. 19. Their numbers have already been cut to a third because violence has made it impossible for them to move around.
“But the remaining 100 observers, along with our civilian colleagues, will operate till the last minute,” Gaye said.
“I call on the parties to cease military operations and come to the (negotiating) table,” he said, adding that he and his colleagues had delivered the same appeal in person to the government and the Syrian opposition abroad.