December 03, 2012
Syrian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Defects; UN Pulls Staff
Syria's foreign ministry spokesman reportedly has resigned from President Bashar al-Assad's government, while the United Nations says it is pulling its "non-essential international staff" from the country due to the worsening security situation.
Diplomatic and opposition sources say Jihad Makdissi quit and left Syria. As spokesman, he staunchly defended Assad's crackdown on the 20-month anti-government uprising. But news agency reports say Makdissi, a member of Syria's Christian minority, had been criticized recently by others in the government for some of his media appearances.
In a separate development, U.N. humanitarian officials said a quarter of the 100 foreign staff working for their agencies in Syria could leave this week and the United Nations is restricting remaining aid workers to the capital.
Two U.N. convoys en route to the Damascus airport were hit by gunfire last week, and officials said more armored vehicles were needed after similar attacks in recent weeks and the hijacking of goods or vehicles.
Earlier Monday, Syria said it would not use chemical weapons against its own people, after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned the issue remains a "red line" that would prompt direct American intervention.
Speaking to reporters in Prague, Clinton said the United States was "certainly planning to take action" if "credible evidence" surfaced that Syria had used chemical weapons against its own people.
The diplomatic sparring came as Syrian government forces bombed rebel positions in the border town of Ras al-Ain, killing at least 12 people and prompting Turkey to scramble fighter jets along the border.
Meanwhile, the leaders of Russia and Turkey downplayed differences over the Syrian civil war, saying they shared the common goal of trying to end the humanitarian crisis there.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said he understands Turkish concerns about border security, but warned Turkey's request for NATO to deploy Patriot interceptor missiles on the border with Syria could escalate fears of a wider conflict.
Turkey and its Western and Arab allies are calling for the ouster of Assad, who counts Russia as one of his remaining allies.