Syrian defector calls for unity

 

Syria's most prominent defector has put himself forward as someone to unite the fractured opposition as the disparate factions were set to gather in Qatar today to try to agree on a transitional leadership if Bashar Assad's regime is toppled.

Brig Gen Manaf Tlass, a commander in the powerful Republican Guard and the son of a former defence minister who was the most trusted lieutenant of the president's father, defected in early July and flew to Paris. He is now in Saudi Arabia, a key financial backer of the rebellion, where he told the Al-Sharq Al-Awsat daily that he does not see a future for Syria with his former friend at the helm.

"I will try and help as much as I can to unite all the honourable people inside and outside Syria to put together a roadmap to get us out of this crisis, whether there is a role for me or not," he said, explaining that he was in Saudi Arabia to assess what kind of assistance the oil-rich nation could give to help create a new Syria.

In the three weeks since his defection he has only spoken publicly twice, both times to Saudi-controlled media.

Tlass, once a close confidant of the president's, said the regime has many good people without blood on their hands and the country's institutions should be preserved.

He said he had tried to persuade the president not to listen to his inner circle of security advisers who were all counselling for a harsh crackdown on the uprising, which began as peaceful protests in March 2011 but morphed into a civil war.

He said he defected when he realised the regime could not be deterred from its single-minded pursuit of crushing the opposition.

"Sometimes in a friendship you advise a friend many times, and then you discover that you aren't having any impact, so you decide to distance yourself," he said.

The meeting in Doha will focus on forming a transitional administration that could step in as a stopgap government if rebel forces topple Assad. It marks the most comprehensive bid to bring together various Syrian opposition groups and show world leaders a credible alternative to Assad.

It is not clear, however, if Tlass would be an acceptable leadership figure for the opposition or the rebels fighting - and dying - on the ground, especially considering how close his family has been to the regime.

One European Union official familiar with Western intelligence reports, however, dismissed Tlass as a "peripheral figure" in the regime, who had been sidelined. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the material.

The Syrian National Council has acted as the international face of the revolution, but it's been unable to unite the dozens of disparate rebel factions under one banner or even assert much control over the rag-tag rebel groups fighting inside the country.

Rebels who have been fighting for six days in the commercial capital Aleppo, meanwhile, braced themselves amid reports that the government is massing reinforcements to retake the embattled city of 3 million. They reported more intense firepower being used against them, including artillery strikes as well as strafing by attack helicopters and fighter jets.

"Regime forces have been randomly shelling neighbourhoods and the civilians are terrified," local activist Mohammed Saeed told The Associated Press via Skype.

The clashes have spread to neighbourhoods close to the centre of the city, which has a medieval centre that is a Unesco world heritage site.

Last week, Syrian troops used a similar combination of artillery bombardments and overwhelming ground force to quash the rebel assault on Damascus. Government forces far outgun the rebels, but it took them a week to get the assault under control and they were unable to prevent a rebel bombing that killed four high-level regime figures in a sign that the opposition's capabilities are improving.

The White House said yesterday that the use of heavy weapons in Aleppo showed "the depth of depravity" of Assad's regime. Spokesman Jay Carney said Syrian forces were perpetrating "heinous violence" against civilians in the city.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting and shelling in Aleppo killed 26 people on Wednesday, including many children. It estimated that a total of 160 died throughout the country, where fighting continues in the cities of Hama, Homs, Daraa and Deir al-Zour.

July is on track to be the bloodiest month so far in the uprising, with nationwide death tolls estimated at well over 100 people a day, according to the Observatory. That would make it as bad as Iraq when bitter sectarian fighting pushed it to the brink of civil war in 2006. Activists say 19,000 have been killed since the uprising began.

In a visit to Iran today, Syria's deputy prime minister, Omar Ibrahim Ghalawanji, evoked a strong pledge of support from the country's remaining ally in the Middle East, Iran.

"Tehran is ready to give its experience and capabilities to its friend and brother nation of Syria," said Iran's vice president in charge of international affairs, Ali Saeedlou, according to the state news agency. He did not elaborate.

AP

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
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: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Ashdown Group: IT Manager - Salesforce / Reports / CRM - North London - NfP

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and reputable Not for Profit o...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot