Top Syrian general defects to rebel side

Government asks BRICS nations to help find political solution to resolve uprising

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 17 March, 2013, 2:33pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 March, 2013, 4:03am

A high-ranking Syrian general who once led a military intelligence office widely believed to be a torture site has defected from the army.

The defection of Brigadier General Mohammed Nour Ezzedeen Khallouf comes a day after the rebels' top military commander again called for members of the armed forces to join the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, now entering its third year.

But there were no reports of unusually widespread or decisive defections in response to a video address in English and Arabic released on Friday by General Salim Idris, who defected last July and is now the leader of the Free Syrian Army's unified military command.

Instead, Assad's government went on the political offensive, calling on Brazil, China, India and other developing powers to help stop the Syrian conflict and find a political solution to the uprising.

Khallouf, the latest defector, was the army's chief of supplies and logistics. He appeared briefly on Saturday in a broadcast on Al Arabiya. "Arrangements for the defection from the current Assad regime started a while ago," he said. "There was co-ordination with several sides from various factions of the Syrian revolution."

His acceptance into the rebels' ranks underscores their assertion that they will welcome anyone who switches sides even now, so deep into the conflict.

Khallouf previously commanded the Palestine Branch of the military intelligence department, a Damascus headquarters where, according to rebels and watchdog groups, many opposition members have been tortured.

Anti-government activists said his departure would not change things for the government, which could easily replace him.

Protests across Syria to observe the uprising's two-year anniversary were small and muted compared with the exuberant demonstrations that initially set off the revolt, underscoring the sense that the war is nowhere near an end. The government remains dug in and is willing to use extreme force, and a political solution appears remote.

The request for political support from developing nations came in a letter delivered by an Assad adviser, Bouthaina Shaaban, to South African President Jacob Zuma, who is hosting a meeting next week of the so-called BRICS nations: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

As Europe and the United States weigh stronger action to aid the Syrian rebels, including directly arming them, Assad appeared to be appealing to the BRICS' aversion to Western military interventions; all opposed the action that helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in Libya.

As the conflict continues, the Syrian government has increased its use of cluster bombs, which are widely banned because those that do not explode on impact often injure civilians who find them, Human Rights Watch said in a report issued on Saturday. It was based on field investigations.

In the past six months, the Syrian government had dropped 156 cluster bombs in 119 places, said the group, which is based in New York. Two recent strikes alone killed 11 civilians, including two women and five children, the group said.