An official with the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says a Syrian general and one-time confidante of President Bashar al-Assad has defected from Syria and is believed to be in Turkey.
Sipan Hassan told VOA his activist group learned from journalists in Syria that Manaf Tlas has left the country. Tlas served as a brigadier general in Mr. Assad’s elite Republican Guards.
Hassan said Tlas has not formally announced his defection, and Turkey has not confirmed that Tlas is in that country.
Syrian opposition groups also have reported the general’s defection.
Hassan said the defection of such a high-ranking military official would mark a major blow to Mr. Assad’s regime. The activist also said the general’s departure may influence other Syrian military officers to leave the country.
Hassan said it is unknown if Tlas will be in Paris Friday for the Friends of Syria meeting, which includes delegates from about 100 countries opposed to Mr. Assad and 100 members of the opposition.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the meeting is aimed at bringing practical support to the Syrian people. He told Le Parisien newspaper the barbarism of President Assad risks civil war and spreading sectarian violence to neighboring countries.
Fabius said he is looking for delegates at the talks to expand sanctions against Syria, provide communications support to the opposition, and help with humanitarian efforts.
Russia and China, two of Syria’s most powerful allies, are not participating in the Paris talks. Fabius said that as permanent U.N. Security Council members, those two countries must worry about threats to peace.
The head of the U.N. monitoring mission in Syria, Major General Robert Mood, said violence there has reached “unprecedented” levels. He said there must a cease-fire before unarmed observer teams can resume their suspended mission.