Syrian Deputy Minister Joins Opposition, Leaves ‘Sinking Ship’ Regime
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RAY SUAREZ: The Syrian government kept up the pressure on its opponents today, even as it suffered new high-level defections. At the same time, debate grew over how to help the Syrian rebels and civilians caught in the fighting.
Syrian government tanks were still all over the battle-scarred streets of Homs today seen in video recorded surreptitiously on a cell phone. The Baba Amr section of the city had been blasted into ruins in a month-long bombardment by the military.
In Damascus today, the U.N. humanitarian chief, Valerie Amos, told of seeing the shattered neighborhood during a visit yesterday.
VALERIE AMOS, United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs: The devastation there is significant. That part of Homs is completely destroyed. And I am concerned to know what has happened to the people who lived in that part of the city.
RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, tanks and soldiers patrolled in the southern city of Daraa in a bid to repress the uprising that began there more than a year ago.
But President Assad’s regime was dealt a new blow, with four more military officers defecting, plus the deputy oil minister. He was identified as the man in this online video urging the end of an oppressive regime.
ABDO HUSAMEDDINE, Syrian Deputy Oil Minister (through translator): This is why I have chosen to join the voice of righteousness, knowing that this regime will burn my home, persecute my family and come up with a lot of lies. I advise my colleagues who have been silent in the face of crimes for a year to abandon this sinking ship which is about to drown.
RAY SUAREZ: And the chorus of Syrian voices calling for action grew louder still with this march in al-Hasaka organized by women on International Women’s Day.
In Egypt, though, former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, now special envoy to Syria, said outside military intervention is not the answer.
KOFI ANNAN, former U.N. secretary-general: I hope that right now no one is thinking very seriously of using force in this situation. I believe any further militarization will make the situation worse. We have to be careful that we don’t introduce a medicine that’s worse than the disease.
RAY SUAREZ: In fact, U.S. Sen. John McCain called this week for airstrikes. The Arizona Republican spoke yesterday at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz.: Time is running out. Assad’s forces are on the march. Providing military assistance to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups is necessary, but at this late hour that alone will not be sufficient to stop the slaughter and save innocent lives. The only realistic way to do so is with foreign airpower.
RAY SUAREZ: At that same hearing, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said he was against unilateral action for now.
SECRETARY OF DEFENSE LEON PANETTA: As secretary of defense, before I recommend that we put our sons and daughters in uniform in harm’s way, I have got to make very sure that we know what the mission is. I have got to — I have got to make very sure that we know whether we can achieve that mission, at what price, and whether or not it will make matters better or worse.
RAY SUAREZ: And at his news conference on Tuesday, President Obama made clear he’s not ready to go that far either.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: For us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think, is a mistake.
MAN: We’re asking for humanity to help us. We’re asking for the U.N. to help us. We’re asking for the Arab League to help us, anyone, anyone.