x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 October 2017

Syrian Ambassador to UAE defects with wife

Abdel Latif Dabbagh's defection comes a day after his wife Lamia al Hariri, the Syrian charge d’affaires in Cyprus, announced her defection.

Fighters from the Syrian opposition clash with forces loyal to President Bashar Al Assad, in the centre of Syria's restive northern city of Aleppo.
Fighters from the Syrian opposition clash with forces loyal to President Bashar Al Assad, in the centre of Syria's restive northern city of Aleppo.

DUBAI // The former Syrian ambassador to the UAE has defected to the rebels fighting to topple the Assad regime.

Abdel Latif Dabbagh’s defection, announced yesterday by opposition Syrian National Council members in the UAE, brings to three the number of senior diplomats to change sides as civil war rages in their home country.

He was in Cyprus with his wife Lamia Al Hariri, the Syrian charge d’affaires in Cyprus, when she announced her defection on Tuesday. The couple are now thought to be seeking asylum in Qatar.

Syria’s ambassador to Iraq, Nawaf Fares, defected two weeks ago. The leading Sunni tribal figure from eastern Syria fled to Qatar through Jordan, and called on Syrian soldiers to turn their guns on the Damascus leadership.

Shadi Al Khesh, an SNC member in the UAE, said Mr Dabbagh had long been planning his defection with his wife. “We have been in contact over the last period with him, setting up the right time for the announcement.

“He was not ready to announce it now but pressure mounted after his wife defected and the Syrian media assaulted her and called her a prostitute.”

The couple’s defection is a serious blow to the Assad regime. Ms Al Hariri is the niece of the Syrian vice president Farouk Al Sharaa.

She said yesterday that ambassadors in three European countries had also defected, but had made no public announcement because of safety fears.

Ghassan Aboud, an SNC member in Berlin, told The National yesterday more defections would be announced within the next few days.

Mr Aboud said the SNC was working on political assurances for the ambassadors and their families. “We will release news of more ambassadors by the end of this week,” he said.

Mr Al Khesh confirmed arrangements were being made for other Syrian ambassadors around the world to defect. “A large number of ambassadors are ready to defect,” he said.

“However, various issues, such as their families back home and political assurances from the countries they are in, have yet to be finalised.”

Mr Dabbagh’s defection was not a result of political pressure from the UAE, the Federal National Council member Ali Jassim, from Umm Al Quwain, said yesterday.

“All these defections just show how unhappy they are as government representatives with internal matters,” he said.

Abdel Latif Dabbagh was sworn in as Syria’s ambassador to the UAE by the Syrian president, Bashar Al Assad, on January 6 last year. He took office in February 2011.

Mr Dabbagh’s term was cut short in February 2012 after the GCC states expelled all Syrian envoys and recalled their ambassadors from Damascus as the Syrian regime’s repression of the uprising grew increasingly violent.

Although the embassy in the capital and consulate in Dubai remain in operation to assist Syrian citizens, it is believed the ambassador had not been active in his post since his expulsion.

Envoys are customarily given 72 hours to leave their posts under the United Nations’ 1961 Vienna Treaty on Diplomatic Relations. Host nations can, however, choose to allow them to remain in the country.

According to SNC members, Mr Dabbagh stayed in the UAE and had been in contact with the opposition.

He and his wife have two teenage children, son Yazan and daughter Dyara.

In an interview with the Cyprus Weekly newspaper in March 2011, Ms Al Hariri said: “I enjoy diplomacy a lot. It’s very challenging and rewarding but sometimes, I think, very demanding too.”

She described her decision to take up the Cyprus posting as a “difficult” one but said her husband was “very encouraging”.

amustafa@thenational.ae

Additional reporting by Ola Salem in Abu Dhabi and Michael Theodoulou in Cyprus