Gen. Manaf Tlas, a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard, has fled Syria, making him the highest level defection since the start of the Syrian uprising.
His defection suggests a rift in the Syrian regime as Tlas was in the past closely tied to Al-Assad and even attended military trainings with him as young man, according to the BBC.
United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described the latest defection as regime insiders “voting with their feet” with regards to the Syrian uprising.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius saw it as a sign that Al-Assad’s “entourage” were beginning to see the regime as “unsustainable”.
Fabius broke the news of the General’s defection during a “Friends of Syria” conference on Friday, announcing first that he was travelling to France via Turkey but then saying that his destination remains unknown.
The US and 106 other Western and Arab countries met in Paris Friday for the third session of the “Friends of Syria” conference, calling for tougher sanctions on Syria under Chapter VII of the UN charter.
Clinton called for China and Russia to “get off the sidelines” in regards to the Syria crisis, voicing concerns that the lack of any “prices paid” by both permanent Security Council members is what encourages them to “stand up on behalf of the Assad regime.”
Neither China nor Russia attended the Friday conference.
In a report sent to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said UN observers overseeing the six- point ceasefire agreement brokered by the Arab League and UN envoy Kofi Annan should be stationed in Damascus rather than in the field, to prevent them being subjected to danger.
Ban also called for the mission to focus on “fostering dialogue” instead of monitoring the ceasefire agreement.