Diplomats pressure Syria as top general defects

 

The United States and its international allies called today for new, global sanctions against President Bashar Assad's regime, stepping up the pressure after the defection of a top general dealt a major blow to the Syrian leader.

Washington urged countries around the world to demand that Russia and China force Assad to leave power.

Syrian Brig. Gen. Manaf Tlass, a member of the elite Republican Guards and a son of a former defense minister, abandoned Assad's regime, according to Western officials. It was the highest profile departure in 16 months of bloodshed that activists say has killed more than 14,000 people.

The uprising in Syria began in March 2011 with peaceful protests calling for Assad's ouster but has become increasingly militarized as the opposition took up arms to fight a brutal government crackdown. Military defections also have been on the rise.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Tlass had defected and was en route to France, where he has a sister and where world diplomats met today to bolster the Syrian opposition. Later, Fabius backtracked, saying he was not sure of Tlass' final destination.

A member of Syria's opposition National Council, Hassem Hashimi, described Tlass as a powerful figure in the Assad regime. "The defection of Tlass will encourage a lot of similar people to defect as well," he told The Associated Press in Paris.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined senior officials from about 100 other countries in Paris to win wider support for a Syrian transition plan unveiled last week by U.N. mediator Kofi Annan. Joined by America's allies, she called for "real and immediate consequences for non-compliance, including sanctions," against the Assad regime.

But with neither Moscow nor Beijing in attendance, much remained dependent on persuading the two reluctant UN veto-wielding powers to force Assad into abiding by a cease-fire and the transition strategy. Clinton urged governments around the world to direct their pressure toward Russia and China as well.

"What can every nation and group represented here do?" Clinton asked. "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."

"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 added. "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. That is no longer tolerable."

Britain's foreign secretary, William Hague, said, "We don't rule out any option for the future because it is deteriorating. It is a very grave situation. It is a murdering regime, so we want to see a peaceful transition. But we are not ruling anything out."

Diplomats urged the fractured Syrian opposition to unite.

Several rounds of international sanctions so far have done little to stop the bloodshed. This time the United States is hoping for sanctions that have more of an impact.

But Syrian rebels say sanctions aren't working and want quick military action. New violence in Syria led many activists to dismiss the importance of the Paris meeting. Anti-regime activists say Syrian forces have killed at least 25 people, arrested scores more and torched dozens of homes while seizing the northern city of Khan Sheikhoun from rebels.

At the Paris conference, opposition member Hashimi called for a no-fly zone to prevent military forces from "flying over defected soldiers and civilians and bombarding them."

"We're sick of meetings and deadlines. We want action on the ground," said activist Osama Kayal, speaking via Skype from an area near Khan Sheikhoun.

In Paris, Burhan Ghalioun, former leader of the Syrian National Council, explained his frustration after the conference.

"I am not satisfied at all because the Syrians are not waiting for press communiques. What preoccupies the Syrians today is the way we can stop the massacre. Every day there are 100, 130, 150 victims and the people only think about that," he said. "They want action, they want measures and practical mechanism to stop the killings."

But military intervention is not on the immediate horizon. US officials say they are focusing on economic pressure, and the Obama administration says it won't intervene militarily or provide weapons to the Syrian rebels for what it considers to be an already too-militarized conflict.

Any international mandate for military intervention would almost certainly be blocked by Russia and Moscow in the U.N. Security Council.

US officials say a U.N. resolution could be introduced next week, but one that only seeks further economic pressure on Assad's government. Even the chances for that action are unclear, with Russia and China effectively watering down Annan's blueprint for transition at a conference in Geneva last weekend. That plan granted both Assad and the opposition veto over any interim government candidate they oppose.

The opposition expressed some optimism about the reported defection of Tlass, who was one of the most important Sunni figures in Syria's Alawite-dominated regime.

As the son of longtime Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, he was a member of the Syrian Baath Party aristocracy, part of a privileged class that flourished under the Assad dynasty.

His father and Assad's father, Hafez, had been close friends since their days in the Syrian military academy in Homs and became even closer after being posted to Cairo in the late 1950s when Egypt and Syria merged into the United Arab Republic — a union that lasted three years. After Hafez Assad rose to power in the early 1970s, Mustafa Tlass became defense minister and the Syrian president's most trusted lieutenant.

When Hafez died of a heart attack in 2000, Tlass helped engineer Bashar's succession to the presidency and guided the inexperienced young doctor. Tlass was the leader of a coterie of old regime figures that critics blamed for reining in moves to liberalize the Syrian regime.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there