Syrian TV presenter defects as Assad 'regrets' downing jet

Assad regime rocked as well-known TV host and senior army officers go over to oppositon

LAST UPDATED AT 08:55 ON Tue 3 Jul 2012

ONE of the most prominent voices of President Bashar al-Assad's regime has defected. TV presenter Ghatan Sleiba revealed that he had absconded to Turkey so as to work for the Syrian opposition, The Guardian reports.

Sleiba's defection - which took place last Wednesday - came to light on the same day that 85 soldiers, including a general and seven officers, also swapped sides. Taken together, the two revelations represent one of the worst military and propaganda blows for the Assad regime in months.

The 33-year-old Sleiba, who worked for state-owned TV network al-Akhbariya and the al-Dunya channel covering Eastern Syria, told the Guardian that he had been secretly passing information to the rebels of the Free Syria Army during the last seven months.

He had undertaken a long and dangerous journey to the Turkish border from Hassaka, and claimed that much of the east of the country outside of the towns and cities was now effectively under the control of anti-Assad forces.

"This is one of the things they never wanted us to talk about," Sleiba told the Guardian. "What we were doing was not reporting. It was simply acting as the tongue of the regime. I stayed as long as I could to help the revolutionaries, but I couldn't take it any more."

Sleiba said that he had first made contact with members of the Free Syria Army last November. They urged him to remain in his post as he would be able to pass them information about the movement of Assad forces. Al-Dunya is part-owned by Rami Makhlouf, a maternal cousin of Assad who is a key member of the regime.

Meanwhile, the BBC reports that Assad has told the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet that he regrets "100 per cent" the shooting-down last month of a Turkish F-4 jet which the Syrians claimed had entered their airspace. Assad said the Turkish plane had been flying in an area previously used by the Israeli air force. · 

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