Head of Assad's military police defects to rebels

Thu, Dec 27, 2012, 00:00

The head of Syria’s military police has defected from the army and declared allegiance to the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Maj Gen Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal was shown making a statement confirming his defection in a video broadcast on al-Arabiya TV late on Tuesday, saying he was joining “the people’s revolution”.

The defection came as a video posted yesterday claimed government shelling in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa had killed about 20 people, at least eight of them children.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights published a video showing rows of the blood-stained bodies laid out on blankets. The sound of crying relatives could be heard in the background. It was unclear when the attack in the village of al-Qahtania happened.

Syrian officials also headed to Moscow yesterday to discuss proposals for ending the conflict following talks with the UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi in Damascus this week.

Wearing his uniform with a red insignia on the shoulder, Maj Gen Shalal spoke from behind a desk in a room in an undisclosed location. Some rebel sources said he had fled to Turkey. It was not clear when he had changed sides.

“Unarmed population”

“The army has destroyed cities and villages and has committed massacres against an unarmed population that took to the streets to demand freedom,” he said. “Long live free Syria.”

The defection will be a blow to morale for President Assad’s forces, which are hitting back at a string of rebel advances across the country. It follows the defections of dozens of other generals since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011.

In July, Brig Gen Manaf Tlass was the first member of the Assad inner circle to break ranks and join the opposition. Maj Gen Shalal, however, is one of the most senior, and held a top post at the time he left.

“Committing massacres”

In his statement, he said the army had been “derailed from its basic mission of protecting the people and . . . become a gang for killing and destruction”. He accused the military of “destroying cities and villages and committing massacres against our innocent people who came out to demand freedom”.

A group of Syrian foreign ministry officials headed to Moscow to discuss proposals apparently made by Mr Brahimi. The deputy foreign minister, Faisal Makdad, and an aide will sound out Russian officials on the details of meetings with Mr Brahimi, a Syrian security source said.

Meanwhile Israel voiced doubts on Tuesday about the accuracy of Syrian activists claims that chemical weapons had been used against rebels fighting to topple President Assad.

“We have seen reports from the opposition,” vice prime minister Moshe Yaalon said on Army Radio. “It is not the first time. The opposition has an interest in drawing in international military intervention.

“As things stand now, we do not have any confirmation or proof that [chemical weapons] have already been used, but we are definitely following events with concern,” he said. – (Guardian service, Reuters)