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Syria deputy oil minister resigns to join opposition

Syria's deputy oil minister says he is resigning to join the anti-government revolt.

Abdo Hussameddin announced his defection in a video posted on YouTube.

He is the highest ranking civilian to abandon the government of President Bashar al-Assad since the uprising erupted a year ago.

Earlier, after a visit to the city of Homs, the UN humanitarian chief said some areas had been "devastated" in the offensive by Syrian government troops.

Valerie Amos said the bombed-out Baba Amr district felt like it had been closed down entirely.

The government retook the district last week after fierce shelling.

Activists say troops committed massacres since they went in. Damascus blames rebels for many deaths.

Across the country, opposition groups said 39 people were killed on Wednesday - 26 in Homs, six in Idlib, three in Deraa and two each in suburbs of Damascus and Aleppo.

The UN says more than 7,500 people have died as a result of the violence in Syria over the past 12 months.

International media organisations are heavily restricted in Syria, making it impossible to verify the claims of either side.

'Driven by barbarism'

Mr Hussameddin, 58, posted his video on YouTube late on Wednesday.

Bombed out Baba Amr district of Homs. File photo Syrian activists say government troops have committed massacres in Homs

"I, Abdo Hussameddin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party.

"I am joining the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime."

Mr Hussameddin - who has been deputy minister since August 2009 - added: "I tell the regime, which claims to own the country, you have nothing but the footprint of the tank driven by your barbarism to kill innocent people."

An activist who shot the video and posted it on YouTube told the AFP news agency in Beirut that the opposition had helped to arrange the resignation.

The Syrian government has not publicly commented on Mr Hussameddin's announcement.

A spokeswoman from the opposition National Transitional Council of Syria said she believed many more cabinet members and their deputies were prepared to defect.

'No unilateral action'

In a separate development, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that no options - including military action - had been ruled out to end the violence in Syria.

One woman told the BBC's Paul Wood how two of her brothers were detained, and one was killed

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on Wednesday, Mr Panetta said the legal basis for any such action must be clear and the limits of military force recognised.

"What doesn't make sense is to take unilateral action right now," he said.

"I've got to make very sure we know what the mission is."

Mr Panetta stressed the US still preferred a diplomatic solution.

Washington is currently trying to draft a new UN Security Council resolution to try to end the violence.

Russia and China have vetoed two previous resolutions, saying they were unbalanced and only demanded the government stop attacks.

The former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, is due to hold talks with Syrian government officials in Damascus on Saturday as joint special envoy for the UN and the Arab League.  - BBC

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