Long-serving Syrian deputy oil minister Abdo Hussameddin became the highest-ranking official in the country to join the anti-regime movement when he gave up his portfolio Thursday.

Announcing his defection, Hussameddin, who had served in the Syrian government for 33 years, said he no longer wished to work for a criminal regime.

I, the engineer Abdo Hussameddin, the deputy oil minister... announce my defection from the regime and my resignation, he said in the video posted by anti-regime activists on YouTube.

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.

Hussameddin's resignation was hot on the heels of U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's statement suggesting, for the first time, Washington's willingness to assist Syrian protestors by delivering non-lethal aid.

Though the Obama administration is opposed to a unilateral military action forcing President Bashar al-Assad to step down, Panetta expressed outrage at the mass killing of civilians in government crackdown.

We are reviewing all possible additional steps that can be taken with our international partners to support efforts to protect the Syrian people, end the violence and ensure regional stability, including potential military options if necessary, Panetta told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Though Panetta didn't disclose the exact nature of U.S. plan to deliver equipment to the Syrian rebels, he said the administration was considering an array of non-lethal assistance.

According to the United Nations estimate, more than 7,500 people have died in the government attacks on civilians since the revolution swept the country in March last year.