Published — Wednesday 26 December 2012
Last update 28 December 2012 5:13 pm
BEIRUT: A pan-Arab TV station says the general who heads Syria’s military police has defected and joined the uprising against President Bashar Assad.
Maj. Gen. Abdul-Aziz Jassem Al-Shallal has appeared in a video aired on Al Arabiya TV saying he is joining “the people’s revolution.”
In the video aired late Tuesday, Al-Shallal said the army deviated from its mission of protecting the nation and became “a gang for killing and destruction.”
"The army has destroyed cities and villages and has committed massacres against an unarmed population that took to the streets to demand freedom," he said. "Long live free Syria."
Wearing a camouflage uniform with red officer insignia on the shoulder, Shalal spoke from a desk in a room in an undisclosed location. Some rebel sources said he had fled to Turkey. It was not clear when Shalal had changed sides.
A Syrian security source confirmed the defection but played down its significance.
"Shalal did defect but he was due to retire in a month and he only defected to play hero," the source said.
Dozens of generals have defected since Syria’s crisis began in March 2011 but Al-Shallal is one of the most senior and held a top post at the time that he left.
In July, Manaf Tlass, a Syrian general, was the first member of Assad’s inner circle to break ranks and join the opposition.
Death toll hits 45,000
More than 45,000 people have been killed in Syria since the outbreak in March 2011 of an anti-regime revolt that became a bloody insurgency after a brutal crackdown on dissent, a watchdog said on Wednesday.
“In all we have documented the deaths of 45,048 people,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told AFP, adding that more than 1,000 people were killed in the past week alone.
Giving a breakdown, he said those killed included “31,544 civilians, 1,511 defectors, 11,217 soldiers and 776 unidentified bodies.”
The Observatory, which relies on a network of medics and activists on the ground, counts non-military combatants who have taken up arms against the regime as civilians.
The actual number of people killed in Syria’s spiralling conflict is likely much higher.
“We believe the real number could be as high as 100,000,” Abdel Rahman said.
“Many of the thousands missing in jails are feared dead. Both the army and rebel fighters are concealing many of their casualties,” he added.
The Observatory does not include in its toll thousands of shabiha (pro-regime militiamen), people believed to be informants for the state, or foreign fighters who have joined the anti-regime insurgency.