The most senior politician to defect from the Syrian government says he believes that President Bashar al-Assad's regime won't hesitate to use chemical weapons to try to stay in power.
Nawaf Fares, Syria's former ambassador to Iraq, told the BBC that unconfirmed reports indicate chemical weapons already may have been used by the regime against civilians in Homs.
He also elaborated on allegations that Assad's regime and Al-Qaeda are collaborating to orchestrate major bombings across Syria.
Damascus has previously accused Western nations of backing extremist Sunni Al-Qaeda militants to fight against Assad's minority Alawite-dominated regime.
But Fares says Al-Qaeda and Assad's regime have put aside their differences to pursue "common interests."
He said Al-Qaeda is "searching for space to move and a means of support" while Assad's regime is "looking for ways to terrorize the Syrian people."
Fares's posts in the Syrian government would have given him a unique vantage point for witnessing the allegations.
He has held senior positions in the ruling Ba'ath Party and in Syria's security services. He also served as the governor of several Syrian provinces.
Regime 'Is Dead'
From 2008 until his defection last week, Fares was Assad's ambassador in Baghdad. Some years ago, the U.S.-led coalition had accused Damascus of helping Al-Qaeda-linked militants travel into Iraq by passing through Syria.
Fares says he defected because he is convinced Assad's regime "is dead" and "will never do anything for the sake of the people."
He blamed the regime for killings, oppression, and bombings of civilian areas across Syria -- saying it is "impossible for the Syrians to trust Bashar al-Assad again."
Fighting raged in several districts of Damascus on July 17 as opposition fighters in the Free Syrian Army announced a full-scale attack operation on regime forces called "the Damascus volcano and earthquakes of Syria."
The operation was described as "the first strategic step toward bringing Syria into a state of complete and total civil disobedience," with "attacks on all security stations and branches in the cities and the countryside."
Government forces and opposition have been fighting in several Damascus neighborhoods since the weekend, with reports saying government forces were using tanks, helicopter gunships, and rockets.
The armed opposition says all foreign officers on Syrian soil that are allied to the regime are "legitimate targets" -- including Lebanese Shi'ite Hizballah militia, members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, Iraqi militants, and pro-Assad Palestinian factions.
UN Slams 'Political Obstruction'
In Geneva, the director-general of the United Nations office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs -- John Ging -- indicated that the deteriorating situation in Syria is making it difficult to deliver humanitarian aid to suffering civilians.
"We face tremendous political obstruction from the government of Syria," he said. "We face an incredibly dangerous operational environment because of the conflict itself and we face capacity issues among the organizations who are trying to scale up physically from no humanitarian, or very little humanitarian operations to a massive humanitarian operation."
In Moscow, meanwhile, international envoy Kofi Annan was meeting with the Russian leadership on July 17 for talks on a proposed new United Nations Security Council resolution on the Syrian crisis.
On July 16, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the West of trying to blackmail Moscow into supporting threats of sanctions against the Syrian regime.
Lavrov told reporters that Western powers have threatened to block extending the mandate of the 300-strong UN monitoring mission in Syria if Russia does not agree to sanctions against its longtime ally in Damascus.
With reporting by the BBC, Reuters, AP, and AFP