Syrian Brigadier-General Manaf Tlas, who headed a unit of the elite Republican Guard and was a long-time ally of President Bashar al-Assad, has left Damascus and is on his way to Paris, a close family friend told Reuters on Friday.
Tlas, in his mid 40s, arrived in Turkey on Thursday from Syria and was making his way to France where his father Mustafa Tlas, a former defense minister, now lives, said the family friend.
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French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed that Tlas has defected and is on his way to France.
Meanwhile, Syrian opposition leaders are pressing diplomats at an international conference in Paris for a no-fly zone over Syria, but the US and its European and Arab partners are expected to focus on economic sanctions instead.
Hassan Hashimi, general secretary of the opposition Syrian National Council, said the international community is still moving too slowly. He said he hopes to see a "tough stand" at Friday's so-called Friends of Syria conference in Paris, and a no-fly zone to prevent military forces "flying over defected soldiers and civilians and bombarding them."
Anti-Assad protests on streets of Damascus (Photo: AP)
Hillary Clinton is expected to attend the conference, in which US and European diplomats are expected to threaten new sanctions on President Bashar Assad's regime if he fails to quickly implement a UN-brokered peace plan.
The Asharq Alawsat newspaper reported Friday that the 'Syrian Free Army' had succeeded in totally obliterating the 67th regiment which it claims, carried out the Houla massacre in the Homs region. It did not add any additional details.
The Associated Press contributed to the report
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