U.S. Welcomes Defection of Top Syrian General

July 6, 2012  

The defection of a top general from the Syrian regime is “significant” and signals cracks in President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, the Pentagon said Friday.

“We welcome this defection and we believe it is significant,” Pentagon spokesman Captain John Kirby was quoted by AFP as having 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.”

General Manaf Tlass defected three days ago, the highest-ranking military officer to have abandoned the Assad regime.

AFP reported that he was an officer in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime and is the son of former defense minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez.

Kirby said the United States hopes “others would follow his example,” but noted that it was too soon to say the regime’s leadership was on the verge of collapse.

Assad “has loyalists still around him and certainly the vast majority of the Syrian military is still following his orders,” the spokesman said.

A report on Thursday said Tlass had defected to Turkey, which has become home to dozens of soldiers who have crossed the border. Around 35,000 displaced Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey since the start of the bloody uprising in March 2011.

Meanwhile on Friday, the United States and its international allies called for new, global sanctions against Assad’s regime.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hailed the defection of top military officials in Assad’s inner circle, telling reporters that “regime insiders and the military establishment are starting to vote with their feet.”

A report in The Associated Press quoted Clinton as having said this shows that “those with the closest knowledge of Assad’s actions and crimes are moving away. We think that’s a very promising development. It also raises questions for those remaining in Damascus, who are still supporting this regime.”

Clinton joined senior officials from about 100 other countries in Paris to win wider support for a Syrian transition plan unveiled last week by UN mediator Kofi Annan. Joined by America’s allies, she called for “real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions,” against the Assad regime.

Clinton also urged governments around the world to direct their pressure toward Russia and China, which have objected to any real action against Assad.

“I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all — nothing at all — for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” said Clinton, according to AP. “The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price. Because they are holding up progress, blockading it. That is no longer tolerable.”

Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Benny Gantz stressed on Thursday that Israel must be prepared for any scenario which may arise as a result of the crisis in Syria, adding that Israel is investing the maximum resources in this.

“The rebels and Assad are intensifying their steps. Things there continue to heat up and I believe he [Assad] will not last long,” Gantz said during a graduation ceremony of battalion commanders. “What is certain is the uncertainty about how it will look the day after Assad, and we must be prepared for any possibility.”

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