Senior Syrian figure defects

Wed, Dec 26, 2012, 00:00

At least 20 people are reported dead in the latest violence in Syria as the head of Syria's military police defects from the army and declares allegiance to the uprising against president Bashar al-Assad.

Government shelling in the northern Syrian province of Raqqa killed about 20 people, at least 8 of them children, a video posted by activists today showed.

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. The shelling hit the province's al-Qahtania village, but it was unclear when the attack happened.

The bombing came after the high-level defection of the head of Syria's military police. The defection, while not a strategically significant development in the 21-month-old conflict, will be a blow to morale for Dr Assad's forces, which are hitting back at a string of rebel advances across the country.

"I am General Abdelaziz Jassim al-Shalal, head of the military police. I have defected because of the deviation of the army from its primary duty of protecting the country and its transformation into gangs of killing and destruction," the officer said in a video published on YouTube.

A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance.

"Shalal did defect but he was due to retire in a month and he only defected to play hero," the source said.

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

"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."

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