Syria's Deputy Oil Minister announced he is leaving the regime in protest of the government's crimes. NBC's Brian Williams reports.
AMMAN, Jordan - Syrian Deputy Oil Minister Abdo Hussameldin apparently announced his defection on YouTube, becoming the first high-ranking civilian official to abandon President Bashar Assad since the uprising against his rule erupted a year ago.
"I Abdo Hussameldin, deputy oil and mineral wealth minister in Syria, announce my defection from the regime, resignation from my position and withdrawal from the Baath Party," Hussameldin said in the video, the authenticity of which could not be immediately confirmed.
"I join the revolution of this dignified people," he said in the video uploaded on Wednesday.
Hussameldin said he had been in government for 33 years but did not want to end his career "serving the crimes of this regime," adding: "I have preferred to do what is right although I know that this regime will burn my house and persecute my family."
Syrian security forces have killed more than 7,500 civilians during the crackdown on pro-democracy protests, according to the United Nations, and the outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing.
While saying very preliminary military planning was under way, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Wednesday defended U.S. caution in trying to end the violence, despite criticism from legislators who questioned how many people would have to die before the Obama administration used force.
Relief workers have resumed distributing aid, but stopping the slaughter is something President Barack Obama says the U.S. will not do alone. NBC's Andrea Mitchell reports.
U.N. humanitarian chief Valerie Amos saw a scene of devastation on Wednesday when she visited the Baba Amr district of the city of Homs that was shelled by the military for nearly a month after becoming a rebel holdout.
'A whole year of sorrow'
Hussameldin said: "I say to this regime: you have inflicted on those who you claim are your people a whole year of sorrow and sadness, denying them basic life and humanity and driving Syria to the edge of the abyss."
Assad appointed Hussameldin, 58, to his current position through a presidential decree in 2009. He said the country's economy was "near collapse". There was no mention of the defection on Syrian state media.
Wearing a suit and tie, Hussameldin looked relaxed as he looked directly into the camera in a tight head and shoulders shot, appearing to read from a prepared statement on his lap as he sat on a dark grey chair against a yellow background.
U.N. humanitarian aid chief Valerie Amos visited Homs and described what she saw as "complete devastation." ITN's John Ray reports.
Opposition sources say the government, controlled by Assad's minority Alawite sect that has dominated power in Syria for the past five decades, has effectively stopped functioning in provinces that have been at the forefront of the uprising, such as Homs and the northwest province of Idlib.
But public defections have remained rare among the civilian branches of the state, despite thousands of the mostly Sunni soldiers and conscripts who make the bulk of the army deserting since the uprising broke out last March.
Amos is hoping to secure access for humanitarian organizations, which have been barred from the zones of heaviest conflict.
Syria had initially failed to grant Amos access to the country but relented after Damascus's allies Russia and China joined the rest of the U.N. Security Council in a rare rebuke of Syria for not allowing her in.
As the humanitarian crisis worsens inside Syria, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., pushes US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta during a hearing on Capitol Hill about whether the US should be arming rebel forces.
"It was like a closed-down city and there were very few people around," Amanda Pitt, a spokeswoman for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said of Amos's visit to Baba Amr on Wednesday, adding it "looked like it was devastated from the fighting and shelling."
Amos went in with a team of Syrian Arab Red Crescent aid workers, who entered Baba Amr for the first time in 10 days, before heading back to Damascus where she held talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem earlier in the day.
He told her Syria was trying to meet the needs of all citizens despite the burdens imposed by "unfair" Western and Arab sanctions, the state news agency SANA said.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expresses deep concern over the current civil unrest in Syria, aiming heavy criticism at Bashar al-Assad's regime for failing to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the Syrian people.
Assad's government says the uprising is a campaign by foreign-backed Islamist insurgents that has killed 2,000 police and soldiers since the protests erupted.
Pressure has been mounting on the United States to take some sort of military action, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reported, but the Obama administration does not want to interene alone. The Arab League and NATO would not back U.S. military action.
President Barack Obama said on Tuesday it was only a matter of time before Assad left office, but has shown no enthusiasm for U.S. participation in an election-year military mission to force him out.
Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee the administration was still trying to forge a consensus on addressing the violence. "That makes the most sense. What doesn't make sense is to take unilateral action at this point."
The British Ambassador to Syria told ITV News President Assad's shelling and attacks will lead to his downfall. ITN's Paul Davies reports.
He and General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel that, at Obama's request, the Pentagon had studied U.S. military options in Syria, assessing issues such as potential missions and Syria's troop line-up.
Meanwhile, China's envoy to Syria told Assad's government to stop the violence and help the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross send aid to strife-hit areas, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Thursday.
Ministry spokesman Liu Weimin said the envoy also promoted mediation between the Syrian government and opposition groups.
Reuters, NBC News and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.