The Syrian regime is poised to use chemical weapons, according to a high-profile defector.

Speaking to the BBC, Nawaf Fares, the regime’s former ambassador to Iraq, called President Assad a “wounded wolf” and said that he would not hesitate to use chemical weaponry to quell the uprising. Fares also intimated that the regime may have already done so.

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Farres (left) meeting President Assad in 2008

Fares said: "There is information, unconfirmed information of course, that chemical weapons have been used partially in the city of Homs.

According to western intelligence, Syria has a large stockpile of chemical weapons, a concern to the countries neighbouring the restive state. Should the regime fall, securing this stockpile will be vital for both Syria’s neighbours and western governments.

The former Baath Party official also made the startling claim that al-Qaeda is operating within the country in the form of Sunni militants allied to the regime’s ruling minority Allawites – two traditional enemies.

He said: "Al-Qaeda is searching for space to move and means of support, the regime is looking for ways to terrorise the Syrian people."

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Amateur footage shot on Sunday of clashes in Damascus (unconfirmed)

Fares, the most senior politician to defect since the uprising began 16 months ago, also said that al-Qaeda had been involved in selecting targets for the Assad regime to bomb.

This week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is due in Beijing for talks with the Chinese government over the country’s intransigence towards international action against Syria.

Arab League envoy Kofi Annan is also pushing for tougher action against the regime. He is due on Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

On Monday, activists reported clashes in the capital Damascus between rebels and Syrian troops. Violence was recorded in the south-west and north of the city.

Reported by the Associated Press, one Damascus activists, said: "Without a doubt, this is all anyone is talking about today...The sounds of war are clear throughout the city. They are bouncing off the buildings."

On Monday the London-based Syrian Network for Human Rights reported that 10 members of the Free Syrian Army had been killed in the capital, adding to the 31 killed in Hama and 19 killed in Homs. The numbers are unverified due to reporting restrictions on western journalists in Syria.

With the spread of violence to Damascus, US ambassador to the UN Susan Rice has questioned the presence of UN monitors in Syria.

The Unsmis mission is due to run out on Friday. Speaking on Monday, Rice said: "We would like to see Unsmis able to do the job it was mandated to do, which is monitor a ceasefire and implement the six-point plan. But because the government of Syria and the regime has refused to adhere to its commitments, that has not been possible."