Syria: senior Assad general defects to rebels (TELEGRAPH UK) By Adrian Blomfield, Middle East Correspondent 07/06/12)
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The Assad regime suffered the most significant defection of the
Syrian uprising on Thursday when a general from one of the country´s
most famous families decamped to join the rebels.
The desertion of Brig Manaf Tlas, a senior commander in the elite
Republican Guard, dealt a humiliating personal blow to President
Bashar al-Assad and represented a major scalp for the opposition.
Brig Tlas was once a close confidante of the president, serving as a
member of Mr Assad´s small inner circle and the central committee of
the Syria´s Ba´ath Party.
A pro-government website with links to the Syrian security services
confirmed the defection, saying that Brig Tlas had fled to Turkey but
played down the impact of the development.
"His escape does not mean anything," a security official was quoted
by the Syriasteps website as saying.
But the brigadier´s defection would have reverberated across Syria
because of the pedigree of his family name. Opposition sources claim
15 brigadiers have joined rebels camped near the border in recent
But Brig Tlas is by far the most significant of these defectors. Gen
Mustafa Tlas, his father, was a long-serving defence minister and one
of the most powerful people in Syria, playing a pivotal role in
consolidating the president´s hold on power after he succeeded his
father, Hafez al-Assad in 2000.
The defection could prompt other members of the Sunni elite who have
remained loyal to the president to follow suit.
In an indication the move had been feared, Brig Tlas had been
sidelined last year. He remained at home in Damascus for months amid
rumours that he was under arrest after questions over his loyalty
were raised in part because of the actions of other members of his
One of his cousins serves as the commander of a rebel brigade in
Homs, while his brother and father, said to nurse a grudge against Mr
Assad after he was forced to resign in 2004, now live in Paris and
are said to associate with regime opponents.
The defection came as Iraq´s foreign minister disclosed that Al Qaeda
militants at the forefront of Iraq´s former insurgency had crossed
the border into Syria and are fuelling the violence there.
Hosyhar Zebari said he had "solid information" that extremists
affiliated to the terror network had re-opened cross-border smuggling
routes that sustained Islamist militancy during Iraq´s bloodiest
"Most of the suicide bombers, foreign fighters, elements of al Qaeda
used to slip into Iraq from Syria," he said.
"Now it´s the opposite. Now their direction is the other way round."
Mr Zebari, one of the Arab world´s most respected diplomats, gave
warning that the militant migration posed a grave danger to the
region because the extremists could use Syria as a base to launch
attacks elsewhere in the Middle East.
His minister´s assessment is likely to challenged by rebel leaders in
Syria, who accuse the Assad regime of deliberately overstating the
level of al-Qaeda loyalists operating in the country.
Iraq´s Shia-led government is seen in the Arab world as an ally of
President Bashar al-Assad. Although its support of his regime is more
quietly stated than Iran´s, Iraq has refused to back Arab League
initiatives against the Syrian government.
Mr Zebari´s assessment is shared by Western diplomats who have spoken
of concerns over the growing presence of Iraqi-based extremists in
Groups pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda have claimed responsibility
for bombings against civilian targets in Damascus and Aleppo, Syria´s
second city, that have killed scores of people.
The presence of al-Qaeda extremists has discouraged Western powers
from giving greater assistance to the rebels in the past amid fears
that weapons could end up in Islamist hands.
CIA officers working in southern Turkey have reportedly been working
to ensure that arms provided by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United
Arab Emirates are channeled to rebel groups seen as more moderate in
However Amnesty International yesterday urged caution about the
distribution of weapons to the rebels as it called for a complete
arms embargo on the Assad regime on the eve of today´s meeting of
the "Friends of Syria" coalition.
Switzerland announced that it would block arms shipments to the
United Arab Emirates after the publication of photographs of a Swiss-
made hand grenade that was found in Syria -- suggesting that the UAE
had broken a promise not to re-export Swiss arms.
Western powers are hoping that the Friends of Syria meeting will
result in fresh pressure on Mr Assad after a new international
initiative failed explicitly to call for his resignation following
objections from Russia.
William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, said that the Friends of Syria
meeting would be used to lay the ground for a new United Nations
Security Council resolution that would threaten the Assad regime with
Mr Hague told members of the public in a live conversation on Twitter
that the Government would seek a new resolution even without the
backing of Russia and China, both of whom wield veto power in the
The West has attempted to shame Russia and China by forcing them to
vote against Security Council measures twice in the past, but the
strategy appears to have made little difference in ending the impasse
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, on Thursday confirmed
that the West had approached the Kremlin to ask it to give Mr Assad
asylum. Mr Lavrov said he assumed that the proposition was a "joke".
(© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012. 07/06/12)
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