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Shelling and explosions hit a number of Syrian cities early Thursday, the same day the highest level political defection from president Bashar Assad’s government. Syrian deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameldin announced he would join the country’s rebel movement in a youtube video.
“In the name of Allah… I declare that I’m joining the revolution,” Hussameldin said in Arabic. “I’ve been part of this government for 33 years, and I have acquired many titles, and i do not want to retire serving the crimes of this regime.”
“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime.”
“I do not want to end my life servicing the crimes of this regime,” Husameddine said, adding that he was joining “the dignified people’s revolution.”
He appeared to address President Bashar 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 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.
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 Assad mounts.
On Wednesday, the U.N. humanitarian chief, 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 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,” she said in Damascus, a relatively peaceful stronghold of 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 was allegedly executed last month for refusing to obey orders to shoot at civilians in Homs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.