SYRIA - Following the defection of Syria's ambassador to Iraq, both diplomatic and military pressure is growing on President Bashar al-Assad as violence continues, including around the capital Damascus. Reports on Thursday suggest that the defection of Syria's ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, who called for other members of the regime to follow his lead, could lead to new defections. A journalist at the Abu Dhabi daily The National wrote on Twitter that opposition forces told him as many as 31 top diplomats are ready to switch sides in the ongoing conflict. 

In an exclusive statement to Al Jazeera on Wednesday (see video below), Fares explained that he was resigning from his post in Bagdhad and from the ruling Baath party. "I urge all honest members of this party to follow my path because the regime has turned it [the party] to an instrument to kill people and their aspiration to freedom," Fares told the Qatari television station. 

On Thursday the Syrian authorities said they had fired Fares, who is the highest-ranking diplomat to defect since the uprising started 16 months ago, CNN reports. The Guardian Middle East Live Blog is reporting that Fares is now in Qatar.

This is the second high profile defection after a high-ranking brigadier general close to Assad fled the country over a week ago. Reports on Thursday indicated that a new wave of defections could follow.

The Guardian also reported that leaked minutes of the meeting on Monday between Bashar al-Assad and United Nations special envoy Kofi Annan were correct in indicating that the two men had discussed a possible interlocutor for the regime, to explore the formation of a transitional government with the opposition. 

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