General's defection hints at Syrian regime turmoil

Assad is further rocked as top general and troops swap sides to the Free Syria Army

LAST UPDATED AT 11:45 ON Fri 6 Jul 2012

THE DEFECTION of a general who was a key member of President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle is seen as a body blow to the Syrian regime.

Syriasteps, a website with close links to the country's ruling elite, reported that "a highly placed source in intelligence has confirmed that General Manaf Mustafa Tlass has fled to Turkey" en route to France. It then quoted a security official who said: "His escape does not mean anything".

But Manaf Tlass was a scion of one of the most powerful Sunni families in Syria, and as such was one of the few members of his branch of Islam in the upper echelons of the country's security apparatus. This is dominated by the minority Alawite sect from which the Assad family and many of its key allies are drawn. His departure could have radical implications for the future of other Sunnis in the regime.

The son of the former defence minister Mustafa Tlass, the general had recently fallen out of favour for refusing to take part in military attacks on predominantly civilian areas, The Guardian reports.

The Turkish government confirmed that two Syrian generals had arrived in the country over the last week but wouldn't name them for the safety of their families left in Syria. France later confirmed that Tlass was headed for Paris.

As The Week reported on Monday, 85 soldiers including a general and seven officers crossed into Turkey at the weekend, reinforcing the impression that there is serious discord amid the armed forces.

Another recent defector, TV presenter Ghatan Sleiba, told the Guardian that the Free Syria Army was in control of most areas outside of towns and cities in the east of the country.

Meanwhile, Wikileaks announced on Thursday that they will be releasing more than 2.4 million emails which the whistleblowing website claims have come from official Syrian government accounts. The trove of emails appear to show that some European companies were conducting business with the Assad regime up until this year, selling communication to Syria's police who have been accused of torture and murder.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London waiting for a decision on whether that country will grant him political asylum, said: "The material is embarrassing to Syria, but it is also embarrassing to Syria's external opponents." · 

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