Report: Senior Assad general defects
Published Thursday, July 5, 2012
A friend of President Bashar al-Assad and a brigadier in his Republican Guard, was reported on Wednesday to have fled to Turkey.
If Manaf Tlas, whose father Mustapha was defense minister under Assad's father for 30 years, were confirmed to have defected it would be the most high-profile defection from the inner circle of the Syrian leadership.
Several sources among the Syrian rebels told Reuters he had quit Damascus and a news website close to Assad's security services quoted a Syrian official saying Tlas was now in Turkey.
The Syriasteps website, which quoted a "high-level security source" confirming his flight, also quoted a security official playing it down: "His desertion means nothing," he said. "If Syrian intelligence had wanted to arrest him it would have."
But a source in the exiled opposition to Assad, who said a relative of Tlas had confirmed his defection to him, said: "It's a very important defection. His brigade is very attached to their general, so we can say the true defection has started."
That source said Tlas had fled Damascus on Tuesday and was in Turkey en route for Paris, where Western and Middle Eastern sponsors of the rebel cause are meeting as the "Friends of Syria" on Friday. The French capital is also the home of Tlas's sister, widow of a billionaire Saudi arms dealer.
A witness in Damascus, who spoke anonymously for fear of the security services, said Tlas's house in the Syrian capital had been ransacked by security agents on Thursday: "They took away everything," the witness told Reuters.
Another opposition source said Tlas was expected to issue a video message soon announcing he was joining the opposition.
Tlas commanded a brigade of the Republican Guard, an elite, praetorian force commanded by Assad's feared brother Maher, one of the architects of a bloody crackdown on 16 months of dissent and rebellion in which more than 15,000 people have been killed.