Syria angry but undaunted by defections
Nawaf Fares, Syria's former ambassador to Iraq, is the most prominent politician to defect since the uprising began more than 16 months ago.
For him to have been sent to Baghdad in 2008 after more than 30 years of bad relations between the neighbouring states, Mr Fares must have been well-trusted and close to President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.
Up until his defection, he was a member of Syria's Sunni Muslim elite, which has so far largely remained loyal to the Alawite-dominated government despite the majority Sunni community bearing the brunt of the crackdown on dissent by the security forces.
Mr Fares also held senior positions in the ruling Baath Party and powerful security services, and served as governor in several provinces before becoming ambassador.
He would also have drawn power from his role as chief of the Uqaydat tribe, which has members in eastern Syria, as well as Iraq, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.'Just the beginning'
These credentials help explain the Syrian government's angry reaction to Mr Fares' announcement of his defection on Wednesday and also suggest that the opposition have gained a very valuable ally with vital inside information.
If the opposition is to have any hope of tipping the balance of power, it will need more men like Mr Fares to do the same.
- Head of Sunni Uqaydat tribe, straddling Syria's eastern border with Iraq
- Served as top Baath Party official in Deir al-Zour province
- Appointed Baghdad ambassador 16 Sept 2008
- First Syrian envoy to Iraq for nearly three decades
- Resigns from Baath Party and as ambassador 11 July 2012
"This is just the beginning of a series of defections on the diplomatic level. We are in touch with several ambassadors," a member of the main opposition coalition, the Syrian National Council (SNC), Mohammed Sermini, told the Reuters news agency.
Mr Fares himself urged other senior politicians, officials and military officers to follow suit.
"I call on all party members to do the same because the regime has transformed [the Baath Party] into a tool to oppress the people and their aspirations to freedom and dignity," he said in an interview with al-Jazeera TV with a Syrian revolutionary flag hanging behind his head.
"I announce, from this moment on, that I am siding with the people's revolution in Syria, my natural place in these difficult circumstances which Syria is going through."
Mr Fares' defection came only days after a close associate of the president, Manaf Tlas, a Sunni brigadier general in the Republican Guard, fled Syria.
While both moves could be seen as signs that Mr Assad's circle of trust is unravelling, they are by no means killer blows.
The president is surrounded by multiple layers of gate-keepers and confidants, as well as the formidable state security apparatus and military, which includes the elite Republic Guard units commanded by his brother, Maher.
As long as these institutions remain intact and loyal, Mr Assad will remain strong.