• Opposition SNC to lobby for no-fly zone at Paris meeting
• Manaf Tlass defected from the Assad regime, say diplomats
• AP removed from list of partners on WikiLeaks Syria Files
Syria: AFP have dug up an archive picture of Manaf Tlass with Bashar al-Assad taken in 1999.
The photo was taken in Kuwait City, when Bashar was colonel in the army.
Syria: The French foreign minister Laurent Fabius has confirmed that Manaf Tlass has defected and is on his way to Paris, according to Reuters.
Tlass reportedly has relatives in France. Could he make a guest appearance at the Friends of Syria meeting?
We’ll post more as we get it …
Syria: US secretary of state Hillary Clinton has repeated a call for the UN’s security council to back a resolution to impose “immediate consequences” on the Assad regime.
She also urged world powers on Friday to show Russia and China would pay a price for impeding progress toward a democratic transition in Syria, according to Reuters.
“It is frankly not enough just to come to the Friends of the Syrian People (meeting) because I will tell you very frankly, I don’t think Russia and China believe they are paying any price at all – nothing at all – for standing up on behalf of the Assad regime,” Clinton said at a gathering of countries seeking to speed the departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
“The only way that will change is if every nation represented here directly and urgently makes it clear that Russia and China will pay a price because they are holding up progress – blockading it – (and) that is no longer tolerable.”
An article in today’s Wall Street Journal describes how one oil ministry official, Abdo Husameddin, fled the country last March. Separately, the Guardian has also spoken to a source with knowledge of several defections.Syria: Defecting from the Syrian regime is far from easy and involves considerable risk.
The usual first step, if time allows, is to transfer as much money as possible out of the country because anything left behind is liable to be seized. In Husameddin’s case his assets and bank accounts in Syria were frozen, according to the WSJ report.
Close relatives are also at risk if they remain in Syria so – again – it is best to get them out of the country before defecting. This happened with Manaf Tlass’s family: some of them crossed into Lebanon a few days ago.
The regime likes to claim that the relatively small number of defections by civilian officials is a sign of their loyalty to Assad, but the personal cost of defecting can be extremly high and safe passage out of the country is becoming increasingly difficult. The WSJ article says:
Government officials now need state security authorisation to leave the country, even for brief work travel, Mr Husameddin and other current and former officials said.
Authorisation used to come from the prime minister, they said. But in closing ranks around his core regime, Mr Assad has tasked a few key security agencies to control the travel of officials, these officials said. Even in Syria, their families are kept under strict surveillance, they said.
Syria: The defection of Manaf Tlass is the “talk of the town” among Syrian rebels in southern Turkey, Martin Chulov reports after a spending the last four days in Aleppo province.
[Tlass] was a leading Sunni general he ran a brigade within the Republican guard. He was trusted. I wouldn’t say he was a direct member of the inner sanctum, but he was certainly taken into the confidence of the inner sanctum. For him to flee to Turkey, and we believe to Paris with his family, is the first high-profile defection we have had so close to regime.
The Alawite regime is using Tlass’ status as a Sunni to dismiss the defection, Martin said.
But it does matter. He was one of the most trusted members of the Sunni community within the government. [Tlass] came from Rastan which has been particularly heavily hit. He had been known to be disaffected for some months and there had been rumours that he was under virtual house arrest.
[The defection] was the talk of the town this morning. We were out and about with various rebels in southern Turkey. They all knew about it and it had emboldened them. They thought that it would potentially be a lightening rod for other senior officers still inside Syria.
The area around Aleppo is under complete siege and mostly under the control of the rebels, Martin said. “There were no women, no children. The only people in these towns were men of fighting age. There were shells peppering the day and the night. It is almost a situation of full blown war there,” said Martin.
There are areas inside Syria that are safe from the army, in part because of the presence of Turkish troops at the border, he point out.
There is a de factor buffer zone in all but name. It doesn’t extend the entire length of the border. But rebels do know where it is, and they can go their and seek refuge or resupply. There are numerous places along the Syrian border with Turkey where people can cross.
The situation in Syria is miserable and it’s going to get worse. It’s a particularly torrid situation inside. Rebels know that they are locked into a grinding war of attrition. They do say that Syria army is tired now. A lot of divisions around Idlib and Aleppo are not particularly battle ready. They are struggling, as well as the opposition, to get their army on the move and resupplied.
There may be a couple more high-profile defections, like today. If that happens it could be a game-changer. But my sense it is going to steadily deteriorate.
French President François Hollande has called for stiffer sanctions against Syria and more support for the rebels, Reuters reports.
“Bashar al-Assad must go,” Hollande told a meeting of foreign ministers and senior diplomats from the “Friends of Syria” group.
“It’s in the interest of Syria, of its neighbours and everybody who wants peace in the region.”
Hollande said he wanted the participants at the talks – who were cheered by reports of the defection of a senior Syrian general – to also agree to step up humanitarian aid to the country.
Britain’s foreign office says there are six key aims for the conference:
• Fully endorse joint special envoy Kofi Annan’s transition plan and the outcomes from the action group in Geneva on 30 June
• Urge countries to use their influence on the Syrian government and opposition to engage with Annan and ensure the implementation of a transitional process in line with the principles he has set out
• Agree further ways of increasing pressure on the Syrian regime to comply with Annan’s plan and urge action at the UN if it does not
• Emphasise the need for accountability including support for the commission of inquiry and evidence gathering
• Call for more sanctions and encourage others to do more on sanctions in line with EU and US action
• Increase support for the opposition. The UK has recently provided a further half a million pounds to Syria’s political opposition
Syria: AP says a western official has confirmed the defection of Brigadier General Manaf Tlass (picture with Bashar al-Assad in this archive photograph).
Syria watcher Joshua Landis says his sources in Damascus say that Manaf’s house was ransacked yesterday. The source went by the house in person, he said.
Blogger Brown Moses points to photographs of Tlaff suggesting “that this defection is more about saving his own skin than any ideological differences with the Assad regime.”
(all times BST) Welcome to Middle East Live on another key day for the Syria crisis. The Friends of Syria group is meeting in Paris; Friday protests are expected in Syria as the violence continues to rage; we are promised more Syria file revelations from WikiLeaks; and there’s likely to be more on the reports of a key defection from Assad inner circle.
Here’s a roundup of the latest developments and analysis:
• A Syrian general who was a leading member of Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, Manaf Tlass, has defected, according to reports. Tlass is a member of the most powerful Sunni family in Syria, and the son of a long-serving former defence minister, Mustafa Tlass, but he was reported to have fallen out of favour in recent months for refusing to take part in attacks on civilian areas regarded as opposition strongholds.
Journalist Zaid Benjamin claimed Tlass has arrived in Paris after French intelligence helped smuggle him out, from Idlib via Turkey.
• As delegates gather for the Friends of Syria meeting in Paris, French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said he wants to see expanded sanctions against Syria and more communications support to the opposition, NPR reports. Representatives from about 100 countries and 100 members of the opposition will be at the meeting it said.
• Syrian opposition leaders are pressing for a no-fly zone over Syria, al-Jazeera reports. Hassan Hashimi, general secretary of the opposition Syrian National Council, said the measure was neede to prevent military forces “flying over defected soldiers and civilians and bombarding them.”
• Russia, which is staying away from the conference, is backing Syria because it objects to a western-led world order in which unpopular dictators can be removed, Miram Elder writes from Moscow. Ruslan Aliyev, a Middle east expert at the Moscow-based Centre for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, said: “In Russia, the elite relates very negatively to any attempt at western meddling. There’s a fear that if there’s a new approach to the international system, where the west and UN can change the government of whatever countries they wish the whole world will turn to chaos.”
This morning, as if to underline the point, Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has spelled out his objection to regime change in Syria:
#Lavrov: We do not accept the position of those who say the current Syrian regime must go and that otherwise an intervention is inevitable
— MFA Russia (@MFA_Russia) July 6, 2012
• UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon will recommend that the UN’s monitoring mission continues with a temporarily reduced number of observers, diplomats have told Reuters. The idea, they said, was to shift the mission’s focus from observing a non-existent ceasefire to supporting efforts aimed at securing a political solution, which world powers say is the only way out of the crisis in Syria.
The regime so far has not used the full military means at its disposal; following Assad’s declaration last week that Syria is in a civil war, there are fears that the regime could attempt larger military operations this summer to try again to settle the conflict by force.
But such an escalation would only increase the death toll without forcing a conclusion. Many units of the armed forces are not willing to engage in such an escalation, and would defect in higher numbers. There is already remarkably widespread collaboration between rebels and some members of government security forces who stay at their posts but quietly help the rebels, either for money or out of sympathy. Meanwhile, the opposition is becoming increasingly well-armed and mobile, and could survive an escalated set of assaults.
• Associated Press has been removed from a list of media partners working with WikiLeaks on the disclosure of almost 2.5 million emails from the Assad regime. AP spokesman Paul Colford told The Huffington Post that “the Associated Press is reviewing the emails for possible coverage,” while adding that AP “did not have any advance agreement on how we might handle the material.”
Meanwhile, questions have been raised about another of WikiLeaks’s partners – the Lebanese paper al-Akhbar, the LA Times reports. The paper is widely regarded as favoring Lebanese militant group and political party Hezbollah, which has been supportive of Assad as the conflict rages. Critics argue that its coverage of the crisis has been skewed toward the Syrian government.
• Whatever government emerges after Saturday’s election will be seen as an interim authority while the real power remains with competing local militia, argues Jacob Mundy assistant professor of Peace and Conflict Studies at Colgate University. Writing in Foreign Policy he says:
The tension Libya faces is over whether or not local militias can be trusted with a truly national role, to serve the national interest rather than home interests. The emerging political-economy of power in Libya today suggests it will be the latter … It is strange that last year’s unifying eruption of nationalism has given birth to divisive, violent localist politics, but such is the legacy of the late Brother-Leader.
• The Libyan authorities have yet to charge former prime minister Al-Baghdadi al-Mahmoudi since he was extradited from Tunisia, Human Rights Watch said today after visiting him in his prison cell in Tripoli. Al-Mahmoudi said that he had not suffered any abuse during his detention in Libya, but that he had been physically abused in detention in Tunisia, it said.