[UPDATED First Official to Defect:] Hazem Chehabi, Syria's Honorary Consul General/UC Irvine Foundation Board Member, Resigns Consul Post

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Hazem Chehabi
UPDATE: May 30, 1:13 P.M.: Hazem Chehabi, longtime Syrian honorary consul general, is the first diplomat to defect from President Bashar Al-Assad's government, according to the Syrian American Council. The national pro-revolutionary group lauded Chehabi's resignation from his 18-year-long post as consul general on the west coast.

Chehabi's move came in the wake of U.S. government recalls of top-level Syrian officials after a massacre in Houla, which sparked international outrage. Chehabi told NPR that he wasn't concerned with how the government would receive his resignation, and that he's worried about his country.

ORIGINAL POST, MAY 30, 10:14 A.M.: Hazem Chehabi, Syria's
longtime honorary consul general, and the target of a student movement calling for his dismissal from the UC Irvine Foundation Board, resigned from his government post yesterday. That move came just as the United States government ousted top Syrian envoys Tuesday, a move prompted by a massacre in the Syrian city of Houla, which killed more than 100 civilians. 

Chehabi told NPR's Morning Edition this morning that the massacre was a "tipping point" for him to withdraw from his government-appointed position, and there was no pressure from the U.S. State Department to kick him out.

The demand for Chehabi's resignation from his post as consul general has been ongoing since the uprising in Syria against the Al-Assad regime started 14 months ago, in particular at UCI where Chehabi chairs its foundation board, the fundraising arm of the university. Students were frustrated with Chehabi's post because he criticized the violence without attacking the government for its brutal and internationally-condemned crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

Chehabi decided to finally submit his resignation, telling NPR he could no longer remain silent in the face of a "painful" situation in his country of origin. 

The Associated Students of UCI passed legislation in March demanding his removal from his post, but university officials gave no indication of follow-through on the legislation. Today, UCI sent this statement. 

"The continued violence in Syria is terrifying and intolerable," the e-mailed statement said. "We applaud Dr. Chehabi's resignation as consul general and look forward to his continued involvement with the UC Irvine Foundation."

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