LONDON: Syria’s most senior diplomat in London has defected, Britain's Foreign Office said on Monday.

Khaled al-Ayoubi, the charge d’affaires in London, told officials that he wasn’t willing to represent President Bashar Assad's regime any longer.

Assad’s government is engaged in a battle with rebel forces; rights activists estimate the conflict in the Arab state has killed more than 19,000 people since a popular uprising began in March 2011.

“Mr al-Ayoubi has told us that he is no longer willing to represent a regime that has committed such violent and oppressive acts against its own people,” the Foreign Office said.

“We urge others around Bashar Al-Assad to follow Mr al-Ayoubi’s example; to disassociate themselves from the crimes being committed against the Syrian people and to support a peaceful and free future for Syria.”

Al-Ayoubi’s departure represents the latest in a series of diplomatic and other defections from Assad's regime.    Al-Ayoubi joined the Syrian diplomatic service in 2001. His first posting was in Greece as consul from 2003 to 2008.

Al-Ayoubi is the fourth high ranking envoy to defect.

A Foreign Office spokesman said al-Ayoubi was staying in a safe location in the United Kingdom and was in contact with British officials.

Britain withdrew its ambassador to Damascus earlier this year. Syria's ambassador, Sami Khiyami, also left London earlier this year.—AP

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