DAMASCUS - Syria’s deputy oil minister resigned Thursday to join an anti-regime revolt, as UN-Arab League special envoy Kofi Annan urged a path of diplomacy rather than militarisation to end the crisis in Syria.

On the ground, another four civilians were killed in violence across Syria Thursday, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which this week put the number of people killed since the uprising began a year ago at almost 8,500. Abdo Hussameddin announced his resignation in a video posted by activists on YouTube, saying he was joining the ranks of the rebels.

“I, the engineer Abdo Hussameddin, the deputy oil minister... announce my defection from the regime and my resignation,” he said in the video.

“I am joining the revolution of the people who reject injustice and the brutal campaign of the regime, which is seeking to crush the people’s demand for freedom and dignity,” he added.

The defection was quickly welcomed by Syrian opposition leader Burhan Ghalioun, who told AFP he expects more government officials and politicians to do the same. “I hail the deputy (oil) minister who defected and I call on all government members and public servants ... to abandon this regime and join the ranks of the revolution for freedom and dignity,” said Ghalioun, head of the Syrian National Council, the main opposition group. “I expect for sure that there are other government officials and politicians who will follow suit,” he added.

According to Reuters the United Nations is readying food stocks for 1.5 million people in Syria as part of a 90-day emergency plan to help civilians deprived of basic supplies after nearly a year of conflict.

“More needs to be done,” John Ging of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) told a one-day Syria Humanitarian Forum on Thursday. “There is a huge amount of concern. “The UN side of the humanitarian community is looking at the process of additional food stocks pre-positioned to target 1.5 million people,” said Ging, director of OCHA’s coordination and response division who chaired the meeting.

The UN World Food Program (WFP)said it had distributed some food supplies in Syria through local aid agencies, but had not reached people in the areas worst hit by the violence.

“Our focus is to prepare support potentially to 1.5 million of the conflict-affected population initially through food distribution and also potentially through a voucher program when it is feasible,” WFP’s Lauren Landis said. The UN estimates more than 7,500 civilians have died during Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on a popular uprising.

Syria’s ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui, backed by its ally Russia, accused armed groups of attacking infrastructure, including schools and medical facilities, and causing massive destruction.

“Rebel groups attack, kill, torture and intimidate the civilian population. The flow of all kind of terrorists from some neighboring countries is always increasing. Most of the militants are directly or closely affiliated with al Qaeda,” Mikhail Lebedev, Russia’s deputy ambassador to the UN in Geneva, told the talks.

The key to successful humanitarian assistance was “a ceasefire by all Syrian parties and their participation in an inclusive political dialogue”, he said.

Ging described the situation in Syria as “very fluid” and said the capacity of Syrian health services to provide trauma care and medicines must be restored. Water systems damaged during shelling of residential areas must be repaired.

The world body, which has been shut out of Syria, has drawn up a 90-day aid plan of $105 million likely to translate into a funding appeal to donors, diplomats and UN sources said.

“Safe access to affected areas, in order to identify the greatest needs and deliver needed assistance is still not permitted by the Syrian regime ... We urge all parties to permit immediate, safe and unhindered access,” US deputy assistant secretary of state Kelly T. Clements said in a statement.

Top UN aid official Valerie Amos is midway through a three-day visit to Syria, where she made a brief visit on Wednesday to the shattered Baba Amr district of Homs.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the only international agency to deploy aid workers in Syria, also took part in the meeting that lasted three hours.

“Humanitarians have to step in,” said Claus Sorensen, director general of the European Union’s aid department ECHO.

“The purpose of this meeting is to give an answer to the immediate suffering ... It is about getting access, access and access - that is a precondition for actually providing any type of relief,” he said.

Hamoui, Syria’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said the forum had been convened “contrary to the UN Charter”.

“Syria is not undergoing a humanitarian crisis,” he said, accusing some media of trying to “prepare the ground for foreign military intervention”.

Syria was still exporting farm and industrial products, including livestock, he said.

Dr. Sima Bahous, assistant secretary-general of the League of Arab States, told the meeting: “We call on all parties to cease violence and killing immediately and ensure delivery of humanitarian assistance to all areas.”

Mohamed Ashmawey, chief executive of Islamic Relief Worldwide, an aid group, welcomed the latest talks. “I’m encouraged by hearing the Chinese, the Russian speakers speaking about humanitarian issues they’re now worried about in Syria.”

Asked what aid was needed, he said: “Medical before anything else. People are having hospitals in their houses now, under the ground in basements...It’s really difficult.”

Kofi Annan, the UN-Arab League special envoy on Syria, said he would urge President Assad and his foes to stop fighting and seek a political solution.