x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Friends of Syria summit calls for Assad to step down

Though the meeting seeks a UN Security Council resolution backing more sanctions and diplomatic action, it made no call for military intervention.

PARIS // A meeting of over 100 countries on the Syria crisis called in its final statement for President Bashar al-Assad to stand down as part of a transition in the violence-wracked nation.

"Participants agreed and clearly affirmed that those whose presence would compromise the transition's credibility should be distanced. In this respect, they stressed that Bashar al-Assad should leave power," it said.

The Friends of Syria meeting called for a UN Security Council resolution backed by sanctions to force Syria to accept a political transition plan.

The meeting is seeking a resolution under the UN charter's Chapter 7 including the threat of sanctions and diplomatic action under Article 41 which explicitly does not allow for the threat or use of armed force.

Meanwhile, a high-profile general close to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is headed to Paris after defecting, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Friday.

“A senior official from the Syrian regime, a commander in the Republican Guard, has defected and is headed to Paris,” Fabius told a Friends of Syria meeting of over 100 nations in Paris after reports of Munaf Tlass’s defection.

He did not explicitly name Tlass.

Tlass, the highest-ranking military officer to have abandoned the Assad regime, was on his way to Paris to join his wife and sister, Nahed Ojjeh, widow of Saudi millionaire arms dealer Akram Ojjeh, said a source close to the Syrian government.

Tlass, who is in his late 40s, was a member of the inner circle of power in Syria, and a childhood friend of President Bashar al-Assad.

A general in the elite Republican Guard charged with protecting the regime, he is the son of former defence minister Mustafa Tlass, a close friend of Assad’s late father and predecessor, Hafez.

The Sunni official’s family is originally from the rebel-held town of Rastan, in the central province of Homs, which is currently besieged and being shelled by government forces.