Syrian general defects as Paris summit demands UN resolution
Published Friday, July 6, 2012
Updated 6:52pm: The United States hailed the "significant" defection of a Syrian general on Friday, as a key summit organizing opposition to President Bashar al-Assad called for a new UN resolution.
Manaf Tlass, a top Syrian general with ties to Assad reportedly defected and fled into Turkey, a source close to the regime told AFP on Friday.
"General Manaf Tlass defected three days ago, and he appears to have left Syria," the source close to the Syrian government said on condition of anonymity.
Tlass, the highest-ranking military officer to have abandoned the Assad regime, was on his way to Paris to join his wife and sister, Nahed Ojjeh, widow of Saudi millionaire arms dealer Akram Ojjeh, said the source.
The US praised Tlass' defection as a key moment in the 16-month uprising against Assad.
"We welcome this defection and we believe it is significant," Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby told reporters.
"He's a senior official in the Syrian army and a former friend of Assad, so we do believe this defection shouldn't be taken lightly," he said.
The US hopes "others would follow his example," Kirby said. But he noted that it was too soon to say the regime's leadership was on the verge of collapse.
Opposition members said Tlass – who attended military college with the 46-year-old Assad – will soon announce that he abandoned Assad because of anger at civilian deaths.
Joshua Landis, Syria expert and Director of the Center of Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said the defection was "absolutely important" and that it "sends the sign that the regime is done for."
"The Tlass family has been at the heart of the regime from the beginning. They are the keystone of the Sunni-Alawi alliance that has cemented the regime for four decades," Landis wrote on his blog, Syria Comment.
"No longer is this uprising merely about angry young men in the countryside. It has reached to the very top. The elite Sunnis are looking for the exit door," he added.
West calls for tough resolution
Also on Friday the "Friends of Syria" meeting of over 100 nations called in its final statement for a UN Security Council resolution backed by sanctions to force Syria to accept a political transition plan.
The Paris meeting was seeking a resolution under the UN charter's Chapter 7, including the threat of sanctions and diplomatic action in line with Article 41, which explicitly does not allow for the threat or use of armed force.
However, if measures taken under Article 41 including sanctions do not work, the Security Council can take another decision to move to Article 42 which does authorize the use of force to enforce the UN resolution.
Participants at the Paris meeting "called on the UN Security Council to play its role and support special joint envoy Kofi Annan by urgently adopting, under the United Nations Charter's Chapter 7, a resolution that reaffirms the joint special envoy's six point plan, approved by the Geneva communique of the action group, including its plan for political transition, and impose measures, in accordance with Article 41 of the UN Charter, to ensure its respect," the final statement said.
Russia and China have vetoed two previous UN Security Council resolutions they believe allowed Western powers to exploit the Syrian crisis to further their own interests, as seen with the bombing of Libya last year.
The two powers have warned they will not allow a resolution that could pave the way for military action to pass at the UN.
(Al-Akhbar, AP, Reuters, AFP)