AMMAN - Syria's ambassador to Iraq Nawaf al-Fares said on Wednesday he had defected and joined the revolution against President Bashar Assad, becoming the first senior diplomat to quit the embattled government.

Fares called on Syrian soldiers to follow his lead and turn their guns on the Damascus leadership, in a video statement posted on Facebook

"I declare that I have joined, from this moment, the ranks of the revolution of the Syrian people," Fares said.

"I ask ... the members of the military to join the revolution and to defend the country and the citizens ... Turn your guns towards the criminals from this regime," he added.

Fares was filmed speaking in front of the green and white Syrian flag from the era before the Baath Party took power five decades ago. He did not give details of his location.

He did not spell out his reasons for defecting, but repeatedly said government forces has been killing civilians during its crackdown on the 16-month-old uprising.

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Nawaf, a Sunni Muslim tribal figure from eastern Syria, was appointed in 2008 as ambassador to Baghdad, a sensitive post after a three-decade freeze in diplomatic relations between the two countries.

He was seen as a safe choice, as he had previously served as the top official in Assad's Baath Party in the province of Deir al-Zor. He is also a member of the Ogeidat tribe, a major clan long allied to Syria's Alawite ruling minority.

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