A commander in Syria's Republican Guard whose family has been close to the family of Syrian President Bashar Assad has reportedly defected and is headed to France. That's where diplomats from more than 100 countries are meeting to discuss ways to put more pressure on Assad to end a brutal crackdown on his opponents that has left more than 10,000 civilians dead.
As NPR's Peter Kenyon tells our Newscast Desk, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told those gathered for the so-called Friends of Syria conference in Paris that Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass is on his way to France.
Raed Qutena /AFP/Getty Images
Then-Col. Bashar Assad (left) and Manaf Tlass in 1999. Tlass, now a brigadier general, has reportedly defected and is headed to France.
Then-Col. Bashar Assad (left) and Manaf Tlass in 1999. Tlass, now a brigadier general, has reportedly defected and is headed to France. Raed Qutena /AFP/Getty Images
According to Peter, Tlass was considered a friend of Assad, "just as Tlass' father was a confident of the previous president, Hafez Assad (Bashar Assad's father)."
The New York Times reports that Fabius did not say whether Tlass would join the talks in Paris.
The Guardian, which is live blogging the news, notes that "British-based Syrian writer Rana Kabbani says the Tlass defection is being over-hyped." She has tweeted that:
"Clutching at straws re: defection of #ManafTlass. As a non-# Allawite, he would have had little access 2 useful information for #FSA #Syria."
But Martin Indyk, an assistant secretary of state in the Clinton administration and former U.S. ambassador to Israel, tweets that:
"Syrian General Tlass defects. The rat has left the sinking ship. Mark it thus - the beginning of the end."
At the meeting in Paris, Reuters reports, the "Friends of Syria" have agreed to "massively increase" aid to the anti-Assad groups in Syria, including more communications equipment.