by Rick Moran
A good friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad who is considered part of his inner circle has defected to the opposition and fled to Turkey, according to Reuters:
In what would be the most high-profile defection from the inner circle of the Syrian leadership, Manaf Tlas, a friend of President Bashar al-Assad and a brigadier in his Republican Guard, was reported on Wednesday to have fled to Turkey.
Tlas, whose father Mustapha was defense minister under Assad's father for 30 years, could not be reached for comment but several sources among the Syrian rebels told Reuters he had quit Damascus and a news website close to Assad's security services quoted a Syrian official saying Tlas was now in Turkey.
Tlas is a rare representative of the Sunni Muslim majority in a political elite and officer corps dominated by Assad's fellow Alawites, and his break with his friend may reflect an erosion of support for the president among wealthy Sunnis, slow to join an uprising driven by their poorer co-religionists.
The Syriasteps website which quoted a "high-level security source" confirming his flight also quoted a security official playing it down: "His desertion means nothing," he said. "If Syrian intelligence had wanted to arrest him it would have."
But a source in the exiled opposition to Assad, who said a relative of Tlas had confirmed his defection to him, said: "It's a very important defection. His brigade is very attached to their general, so we can say the true defection has started."
That source said Tlas had fled Damascus on Tuesday and was in Turkey en route for Paris, where Western and Middle Eastern sponsors of the rebel cause are meeting as the "Friends of Syria" on Friday. The French capital is also the home of Tlas's sister, widow of a billionaire Saudi arms dealer.
I've mentioned before that high ranking officials of the regime would start jumping ship because as the prospect of Assad's ouster grows, so does the prospect of war crimes trials. Tlas's defection might shake things loose and begin an exodus, which is what happened when Gaddafi began to look like a loser.
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