Damascus: A high-ranking military commander in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has reportedly fled to Turkey and is expected to join the rebels.
The desertion of Brigadier Manaf Tlas, a senior commander in the elite Republican Guard, has dealt a humiliating personal blow to Assad and represents a major scalp for the opposition.
Brigadier Tlas was once a close confidante of the President, serving as a member of Assad’s small inner circle and the central committee of the Syria's Ba'ath Party.
According to The Telegraph, a pro-government website Syriasteps, with links to the Syrian security services confirmed the defection, saying that Brigadier Tlas had fled to Turkey, but played down the impact of the development.
“His escape does not mean anything,” a security official was quoted by the website as saying.
According to opposition sources, 15 brigadiers have joined rebels camped near the border in recent months.
But Brig Tlas is by far the most significant of these defectors, the paper said.
The defection could prompt other members of the Sunni elite who have remained loyal to the President to follow suit.
First Published: Friday, July 06, 2012, 14:25