Syria death toll up as high-ranking army supporter of Assad defects to Turkey


Syrian forces killed as many as 63 people across the country on Thursday, Al Arabiya reported citing activists at the Syrian Revolution Commission, as a Syrian general was reported to have defected and crossed into Turkey.

Government forces used missiles in shelling Gora al-Shayah and al-Qarabees neighborhoods in Homs, activists said. Meanwhile, government troops stormed Deraa and arrested scores of residents.

Activists added that al-Latmana town in Hama was exposed to intensive shelling since the morning, leaving scores of people killed and injured.

Dozens of people were injured or arrested in the city of al-Suwaidaa, where hundreds of people went out in protests.

Army general defects

Meanwhile, a general in the elite Syrian Republican Guards has defected to Turkey, according to Reuters.

It was the first such reported defection of a high-ranking military supporter of President Bashar al-Assad since the rebellion against him started 16 months ago.

Manaf Tlas, who was accompanied by 23 other defected officers, is the son of Mustapha Tlas, who served as defense minister from the early 1970s until 2004 and was a confidante of Assad's father, the late Hafez al-Assad.

“A high-level security source has confirmed the fleeing of General (Manaf) Tlas to Turkey,” the Syriasteps website, which has links to the Syrian security apparatus, said.

It quoted a security official as saying: “His escape does not mean anything.”

“If Syrian Intelligence had wanted to arrest him it would have done so,” the official added.

Syrian opposition campaigners and Free Syrian Army rebel sources said they had information that Tlas was in Turkey but did not consider him a defector until he makes an announcement.

“We think he has made it to Turkey but he has not contacted us. There is a difference between leaving Syria and joining the opposition to Assad,” a Syrian opposition source said from Istanbul.

A total of 66 people fled into Turkey from Syria on Wednesday, including the general and two colonels as well as soldiers and their families, a Turkish diplomat told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Turkey has become home to dozens of soldiers who have crossed the border. Defectors have formed the Free Syrian Army in opposition to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Around 35,000 displaced Syrians have sought refuge in Turkey since the start of a bloody uprising in March 2011.