Its a busy morning for the Syria desk. The Guardian just posted this to their blog:
4.17pm: Syria: There are unconfirmed reports of a potentially big defection from Assad's inner circle.
Al-Arabiya claims that Manaf Tlas a brigadier general in the Republican guard and son of the former defence minister Mustafa Tlas, has fled to Turkey.
4.42pm: Syria: A note on the reported but unconfirmed defection of Manaf Tlass. Last March, his father Mustapha (the former defence minister) and his businessman brother Firas travelled to Paris, sparking false rumours that they had defected.
Syria watcher Joshua Landis commented at the time:
The Tlass family has long been one of the highest placed Sunni families of the Assad regime ... Firas Tlass has been flirting with the opposition since the uprising began. He frequently writes on the Facebook sites of "friends" who are opposition members, congratulating them on their stands. Most people laughed at this sort of thing because the Tlasses are considered to be pillars of the regime and always trying to play all sides.
5.01pm: Syria: Joshua Landis, a veteran Syria-watcher appears to believe the reports that Manaf Tlass has defected to Turkey. He notes that the Syria Steps website (in Arabic) is claiming to have confirmation from "a highly placed source in intelligence".It these rumors pan out, this will be a huge defection from Bashar al-Assad's inner circle.
Landis's blog post leaves no doubt about Manaf's importance: "If he has indeed fled the country, the regime will be thrown back on its heels." Landis continues:
Manaf Tlass was a close confidant of Bashar from his earliest days and part of his inner circle or "shille", which included people, such as his cousins Rami and Hafiz Makhlouf, Mudar al-Assad (son of Rifaat), Nader Qala'i (ex-CEO of Syriatel and business partner to Rami) Yazan Aslan (son of Ali Aslan, Chief of Staff).He also offers a possible reason for the defection (if eventually confirmed):
The word is that Manaf had been told to solve the Harasta and Duma problems (the growing uprising on the outskirts of Damascus). He did a good job by negotiating with the opposition leaders in both suburbs, agreeing that both government forces and opposition would pull back.
The Alawi leadership said "no, that is not how we are going to do this." They pushed him aside and came down like a ton of bricks on the opposition in both neighborhoods, in an effort to assert state authority and crush the uprising through military means.
Manaf supported a policy of negotiation, flexibility and compromise. He was overruled by the military leadership and has since looked for a way out.
Also see the latest report from the Guardian as to the possible motive for this defection. It may be a direct fallout from the massacre in Douma I have been reporting on here. It would seem that not everyone in the Assad regime has his tolerance for the blood of his countrymen.
See the picture up above? It's an old one but I'm hoping it will save me at least a thousand words. The old man is President Hafez al-Assad, father of Bashar, the current president. The young man is Manaf Tlass, the son of Mustapha Tlass, long time regime insider. You get the picture?
Al-Arabiya: Manaf Tlass, son of former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass, defects and flees to Turkey NOW Syria (@NOW_Syria) July 5, 2012
Reports of defection to Turkey of Manaf Tlass, Brigadier General in Syria Republican Guard cud be key dvelpmnt. No cfmation yet from Turkey Kim Ghattas (@BBCKimGhattas) July 5, 2012
Haaretz is carrying this report with a lot of background:
Manaf Tlass, the son of former Syrian Defense Minister Mustafa Tlass and once a close friend of Syrian President Bashar Assad, has defected from the army and fled to Turkey, Al-Arabiya reported on Thursday.Thu Jul 5, 2012 1:19pm edt we have this from Reuters (after me at the DKos :-)
Manaf Tlass is a commander of an elite unit in the Syrian army. Mustafa Tlass, his father, was a close friend of Bashar Assad's father, Hafez Assad, and served as his minister of defense and right-hand man for decades, despite being a member of a Sunni family. Despite this, Tlass was the subject of derision over the years due to his inability to make significant decision in the security field these decisions were entrusted to Alawite officers.
According to reports in Arab media outlets, Tlass defected from the Syrian army two days ago.
A source in the Syrian defense establishment confirmed the report, and claimed that Tlass fled after he discovered that the Syrian intelligence services found out that he is a member of the opposition and rebel forces.
According to the source, Syrian intelligence was tracking him for an extended period of time and had gathered intelligence on his activities. The source said that Tlass fled after he understood that he would probably be arrested by Assad's security forces. The Syrian source underplayed the importance of the incident, saying that it looked like Tlass understood that the Assad regime had the upper hand.
Newsmaker: Syrian general breaks from Assad's inner circle
By Khaled Yacoub Oweis
He is a Republican Guard brigadier and son of Syria's longest-serving defense minister. But most of all Manaf Tlas is a friend of President Bashar al-Assad, a member of his inner circle and a prominent figure in the Damascus "young guard".
Or he was. Rebels and a news website with links to the Syrian security apparatus said on Thursday that Tlas had fled to Turkey. If confirmed, he would be the first real insider to defect from the embattled elite fighting off a revolt against the Assad clan.
Tlas has long been a rare Sunni name within a ruling clique dominated by Assad's fellow Alawites; the flight of the family scion may reflect a growing sectarian divide and eroding support for the dynasty among richer Sunnis, who have been slow to join a revolt launched by poorer sections of the majority population.
We have his from today's EAWorldView report [Thursday, July 5, 2012 at 7:08 | James Miller]:
A woman yells at Syrian pro-regime militia whom she claims killed her son
1555 GMT: Syria. One of the Youtube channels that posted the pictures of the destroyed trucks in Izaz (map, see update 1524 GMT) has also posted this video, which matches reports posted by several pro-FSA accounts on Twitter. It reportedly shows the national hospital in the city having been captured by the Free Syrian Army.
We have not been able to verify the video.
In the last few seconds, what sounds like an airplane or helicopter can be heard, and then a loud sound that could be a gunshot:
1531 GMT: Syria. This video reportedly shows smoke rising from Baba Amr, an area of Homs that was reportedly heavily shelled today:
However, there are rumors, posted on an opposition Facebook page, that at least one helicopter was shot down by insurgents. Videos appear to show a damaged building near a railway station on fire. The insurgents claim that the videos are proof that they shot down a helicopter, however the videos are inconclusive:Could this be the helicopter in the video that TarantinoDork posted to my other diary this morning?
1524 GMT: Syria. Since this morning there have been rumors that a convoy of commercial vehicles from Turkey were fired on in northern Syria, specifically in the embattled town of Azzaz (or Izaz, Zaman News, perhaps one of Turkey's most respected papers, reports that 4 vehicles, reportedly simultaneously attacked by helicopters and gunfire from troops and armored vehicles. According to the report, the vehicles were carrying textiles from Jordan, through Aleppo, and were on their way to Killis, Turkey, and points beyond when the vehicles were attacked. An activist on Twitter, who also helped with the translation, shares this video which has been making the rounds through the Syrian opposition today:">map). Now, Zaman News, perhaps one of Turkey's most respected papers, reports that 4 vehicles, reportedly simultaneously attacked by helicopters and gunfire from troops and armored vehicles. According to the report, the vehicles were carrying textiles from Jordan, through Aleppo, and were on their way to Killis, Turkey, and points beyond when the vehicles were attacked. An activist on Twitter, who also helped with the translation, shares this video which has been making the rounds through the Syrian opposition today:
Video of the Turkish trucks that where destroyed by Assad's forces without any reason other than being Turkish youtu.be/Wwo-0_TLQ1o Turk4Syria (@Turk4Syria) July 5, 2012