Head Of Military Police Defects To Syrian Opposition

Twenty Syrian civilians were killed in an army attack in the northeast on Wednesday. The latest bloodshed came as the general in charge of Syria's military police force announced his defection to the rebels.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel and we begin this hour with fighting in Syria and the terrible impact of that fighting on children. In a few minutes, we'll hear from a refugee camp in Turkey, where families have fled the violence. First, today the Syrian regime appeared to suffer another high level defection. NPR's Peter Kenyon is monitoring that news and other developments from Istanbul.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: The day began with rebel fighters announcing a new offensive in the northern Raqqa Province.

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KENYON: This video featured Islamist fighters, including some from the Al Isra Front, designated a terrorist group by Washington. The next batch of videos appeared to show one result of the new clashes, government strikes yielding more heavy civilian fatalities.

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KENYON: This video posted by the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights showed bodies lined up on a floor in the village of Katanya, near Raqqa. Some of the bodies are covered with sheets, but it's clear several are women and children. The Observatory reported eight children and three women among the dead. Other activists put the death toll higher. Despite its superior firepower, the Syrian military and security forces continue to suffer losses, some on the battlefield, others due to defections.

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KENYON: A man identifying himself in the video as Major General Abdulaziz al-Shalal said he had quit his job as head of the Syrian military police because the military, in his view, was killing its own people instead of protecting the country. It was the latest high-level defection from the government, and activists speculated that Shalal might offer insights into the regime's strategy.

International envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, still in Damascus, was reportedly sent to visit Moscow on Saturday to discuss options for ending the violence. Syrian diplomats arrived in Moscow today to meet with Russian officials who have been among their strongest supporters but who have recently shown signs of distancing themselves from the regime. Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.

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