BEIRUT A group claiming to represent dissident Syrian diplomats has swung behind the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, calling for a power transfer to a body "representing the Syrian people" and urging more diplomats to join its ranks.
Syrian Diplomats for a Democratic and Civil State includes six or seven diplomats who have defected and others who are still in their positions, said Hosam Hafez, a Syrian diplomat who announced his defection 10 days ago and is acting as coordinator of the group unveiled on Monday.
"We reiterate that we are part of the Syrian state and not the Syrian regime," the group said in a statement.
"We believe that the security-based solution adopted by the regime to deal with what is basically a legal, civil and political crisis has taken the country to a dark abyss."
In the highest-level civilian defection from the Assad administration to date, Prime Minister Riyad Hijab fled the country with his family, his spokesman said on Monday, urging more officials to do the same.
The rate of public defections from the Assad administration has been much slower than the speed at which officials turned their backs on Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan government last year - something those who have defected attribute to fear.
Hafez said the Syrian government had recalled a large number of diplomats in an apparent move to curb the scope for defections in the foreign ministry.
"Usually we have between 350 and 400 diplomats outside. Now I guess we have much less than half this number in the missions outside," he said.
Syrian Diplomats for a Democratic and Civil State aimed to offer the opposition their expertise in "international relations, negotiations, and so on", he said.
"We started as a group of diplomats, but as coordinator of the group, we are receiving more and more requests from bureaucrats and other civil servants to be part of it," he said.
"We are two groups - some who have announced our defection and some who are still in their positions, either on their way to defect or who apparently haven't had the chance to do it yet," he added.
In its statement, the group said the Free Syrian Army - the rebel force fighting Assad - "expresses the Syrian people's will" and called for the withdrawal of the army from Syrian cities.
(Reporting by Alistair Lyon; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)