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Manaf Tlas

Key Syrian defector General Manaf Tlas has hinted that French secret agents helped him flee Syria in early July.

Manaf Tlas said French “services” had helped him escape but refused to be drawn on how, only thanking the French government.

He warned that if the Damascus regime was subjected to more pressure, it could resort to using chemical weapons.

General Manaf Tlas was speaking from his refuge in Paris to interviewers from BBC Arabic and French news channel BFMTV.

His defection was seen as a major blow to the Damascus government.

Not only did he command the elite 10th Brigade of the Republican Guard, but his father Mustafa Tlas served as defence minister for 30 years and was a confidant of Hafez al-Assad, the president’s father and predecessor.

Key Syrian defector General Manaf Tlas has hinted that French secret agents helped him flee Syria in early July

Key Syrian defector General Manaf Tlas has hinted that French secret agents helped him flee Syria in early July

General Manaf Tlas has been touted as a potential figurehead for the opposition but many reject him as too deeply compromised.

He would not specify exactly which French organization had assisted his escape, saying he feared he could endanger those who had helped him.

As well as French groups, Manaf Tlas said the Free Syrian Army had helped him escape “from a distance”.

He warned the regime – under pressure – could resort to using chemical weapons “in limited areas”, adding: “If they used tanks and warplanes against civilians what would keep them from using anything else?”

Syria is at a “dangerous crossroads”, General Manaf Tlas warned, and he urged the international community to “focus all its efforts to draft a real road map to get Syria out of this crisis”.

But he said he was “of course against foreign intervention of any shape or form in Syria”, saying the Syrian people had to “achieve their own victory” and the international community could only help by “putting a new strategy for the revolution”.

The question of foreign intervention has divided the UN over Syria, with Russia and China refusing to back UN sanctions against their ally.

The new UN-Arab League envoy to Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, began his first mission on Monday with a visit to Cairo, and is due to visit Damascus in the coming days. But he has acknowledged the difficulty of the mission which defeated his predecessor, Kofi Annan.

Gen. Manaf Tlas suggested that his “defection” from the government had begun long before he physically fled his country when he withdrew to his office, alienated by the authorities’ violent response to protests.

“On the third month of the revolution, I defected from the regime,” he said.

“I met demonstrators and rebels, listened to their demands and felt that the regime is not willing to change.

“I felt that the regime was lying to the rebels and was searching for shortcuts. I withdrew to my office, did not listen to anyone and decided to defect and help the rebels.”

Manaf Tlas said many of the rebels he had met had been “imprisoned, murdered or tortured as a result of making real humanitarian demands”.

He urged his former friend, President Bashar al-Assad, to give up power not just for Syria’s sake, but for that of his family.

On Monday, it emerged that Russia was proposing organizing a conference bringing together “all the players” of the deadly Syria conflict, including opposition groups, ordinary citizens and the ruling regime.

In an interview scheduled to be published by leading French daily Le Figaro on Wednesday, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov reportedly said the conference would be organized along the lines of the Taif conference that ended Lebanon’s civil war in 1990.

According to the UN, more than 18,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in March 2011. Activists put the death toll at 23,000.



Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Bashar al-Assad, has defected and is on his way to Paris, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said.

Laurent Fabius described it as a “hard blow for the regime” that showed Bashar al-Assad’s entourage was beginning to realise the regime was unsustainable.

Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas fled Syria via Turkey, his family confirmed.

If confirmed, it would be the highest-level defection since the unrest began.

Pro-government website Syriasteps said earlier Gen. Manaf Tlas had made an “escape”, adding the move was “insignificant”.

Earlier rumors about his possible defection in March proved to be false.

Speaking at a meeting of Friends of Syria in Paris, Laurent Fabius said: “A senior official from the Syrian regime, a commander in the Republican Guard, has defected and is headed to Paris.”

“[Bashar al- Assad’s] close entourage is beginning to understand that the regime is unsustainable,” he added.

“Even those close to Assad have begun to understand that one cannot support a slaughterer like Bashar al-Assad.”

His father, former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlas, is reportedly living in France.

Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Bashar al-Assad, has defected and is on his way to Paris

Manaf Tlas, a Syrian general from a powerful family close to President Bashar al-Assad, has defected and is on his way to Paris

Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas’s intentions may only become clear if and when he appears in public to outline his plans.

Amer al-Sadeq, a member of a Damascus-based opposition group, described the latest development as “a good sign”.

“Defecting soldiers, we see many of them, defecting officers, the more they come the better it is to make the regime weaker,” said Amer al-Sadeq.

Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlas, believed to be in his mid-40s, is a commander of a unit of the elite Republican Guard. As a young man he attended military training with President Bashar al-Assad.

Gen. Manaf Tlas has been under a form of home arrest since May 2011 because he opposed the security solution that the regime has been implementing, sources say.

He also was the first government official to meet the opposition back last year to try to start a dialogue and find a political solution to the 16-month crisis.

Unlike most of Syria’s Alawite leaders, the son of former Defence Minister Mustafa Tlas is a Sunni Muslim.

Syria’s majority Sunni community has been at the forefront of the revolt against the president and has borne the brunt of the state’s crackdown, which the UN estimates has left at least 10,000 people dead.

For decades, the Tlas family has given support to the Assad family, helping to ensure Bashar al-Assad’s succession to the presidency 12 years ago.

If Manaf Tlas’ permanent departure from Syria is confirmed, it would mark the first break of a member of President Bashar al-Assad’s close circle, correspondents say.

Observers believe that the move may encourage other Sunni officers to consider their allegiances.

Gen. Manaf Tlas’s departure comes as French President Francois Hollande is hosting a Paris Friends of Syria conference with representatives of more than 100 countries to try to find a way to end the violence in Syria.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the representatives to persuade Russia and China to end their support for the Syrian regime.

“I ask you to reach out to Russia and China and to not only urge but demand that they get off the sidelines and begin to support the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” she said.

“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.”

She also called on the UN Security Council to pass a resolution imposing immediate sanctions on Syria, including under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, allowing for the possibility of military force.

The Paris meeting follows similar events in Tunis and Istanbul which demanded tougher action against the Assad regime.

Russia and China, which both hold vetoes in the Security Council, are not at the meeting.

UN diplomats are working on a document calling for restrictions on commercial activity if Mr Assad fails to abide by UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan’s ceasefire plan and roadmap for a political transition.

The roadmap – announced last weekend by Annan after a meeting of world powers in Geneva – includes an interim government to enable the Syrian people to live ”independently and democratically”.

The Western powers believe that Bashar al-Assad should play no part in Syria’s future, but the roadmap allows President Assad an effective veto over any interim candidate he opposes.

Some 15,800 people have died in more than a year of violence in Syria, activists say.