x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Syria's military police chief defects from Assad's regime

General Abdel Aziz Jassem Al Shallal says the army has turned into 'murderous gangs'.

Syria's military police chief has announced his defection from President Bashar Al Assad's regime, accusing the army of having turned into "murderous gangs".

General Abdel Aziz Jassem Al Shallal announced in a video posted online that he had defected "to join the people's revolution".

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights cited sources close to Gen Al Shallal as saying he was set to retire in January, and its head Rami Abdel Rahman said he has already left Syria, like many other senior military defectors.

According to reports on online platforms, he left Syria for Turkey.

"The army has deviated from its essential mission, which is to protect the country, and it has morphed into murderous, destructive gangs," Gen Al Shallal said.

Gen Al Shallal, whose functions are limited to disciplining soldiers, is not a well-known figure.

"This man was pushed to the sidelines a long time ago," one Syrian activist said online, adding that the general was "suspected of collaborating with insurgents".

Gen Al Shallal "withdrew military police checkpoints from the roads, and he was good to people", another activist wrote online.

Diplomatic efforts to end the crisis will continue this weekend as the international envoy to Syria is set to visit Russia, a senior Russian diplomat said yesterday.

Russia's deputy foreign minister Mikhail Bogdanov said that UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will arrive in Moscow for one-day visit on Saturday, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. Mr Brahimi met with Mr Al Assad in Damascus on Monday, but did not signal any progress toward a negotiated solution for the civil war.

Preceding Mr Brahimi's trip, Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad and assistant foreign minister Ahmad Arnous flew to Moscow early yesterday, according to airport officials in Beirut. The Russian foreign ministry made no immediate comment about their mission. Russia has used its veto right alongside China at the UN Security Council to protect its old ally from international sanctions over a civil war that has killed more than 45,000, according to the Observatory.

"In all we have documented the deaths of 45,048 people," Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman said yesterday, adding that more than 1,000 people were killed in the past week alone.

Meanwhile Syria's interior minister, wounded in a Damascus bombing, headed home on a private jet yesterday after treatment in Beirut, airport officials said, despite calls from some Lebanese to put him on trial for Syrian actions in their country. Officials at Beirut's Rafik Hariri International Airport said Mohammed Al Shaar left Beirut and was flying to Damascus.

Mr Al Shaar was wounded on December 12 when a suicide bomber exploded his vehicle outside the interior ministry, killing five and wounding many, including the minister. The Syrian government denied at first that Mr Al Shaar was wounded. Then it emerged that he was brought to a Beirut hospital last week for treatment. The same minister was wounded when a bomb went off on July 18 during a high-level crisis meeting in Damascus, killing four top officials. It was not clear if Mr Al Shaar's treatment was completed or if he left because of political pressure.

foreign.desk@thenational.ae

* Reporting by Agence France-Presse and Associated Press